In an effort to overcome past discrimination, break down barriers, and make all aspects of society more accessible, federal law requires that state P&A systems have: 1] Independence from providers of disability services, including guardianship services; 2] Broad powers to safeguard people's rights, including the right to take legal action, to enter public and private facilities to talk with service recipients, and to make unannounced visits; 3] Access to records of a service recipient with the individual's or guardian's consent, as well as when the P&A has probable cause to believe the someone was subject to abuse or neglect [then consent is not required]; 4] Access to abuse and neglect investigations conducted by state investigators and facility investigators; 5] Authority to investigate abuse and neglect at public and private institutions, facilities and programs and 6] Involvment of the general public in development of their advocacy plans and priorities.
There is a National Disability Rights Network [NDRN] that is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy [P&A] systems and Client Assisstance Programs [CAP]. Collectively, the P&A/CAP network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in America. NRDN's mission is to promote the integrety and capacity of the P&A/CAP national network and to advocate for the enactment and vigorous enforcement of laws protecting the civil and human rights of people with disabilities. NDRN members serve individuals with a wide range of disabilities, including, but not limted to, those with cognitive, mental, sensory and physical disabilities. They provide these services through the following programs:1] Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Developmental Disabilities [PADD]; 2] Client Assistance Program [CAP]; 3]Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness [PAIMI]; 4] Protection and Advocacy for Individual Rights [PAIR]; 5] Protection and Advocacy for Assistive Technology [PAAT]; 6] Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security[PABSS]; 7] Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury [PATBI] and 8] Protection and Advoccy for Voting Access [PAVA].
A state group that participates and is a member of NDRN is Equip for Equality [EFE] in Illinois. I chose this P&A group to include in this article because I knew its President and CEO, Zena Naiditch, 20 years ago, when I represented approximately 100 community provider agencies in Illinois. I got to know Ms. Naiditch well enough to know that I could trust her to always do the right thing. Equip for Equality has its work cut out for it because The National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI] in its report "Grading the States 2006" gave Illinoi an F, one of eight states to receive an F. In its Category Grades Illinois received, for Infrastructure, a D-; for Information Access, an F; for Services, an F and for Recovery Supports, a D. Under Urgent Needs, NAMI said 1] balanced hospital and community service capacity; 2] Broad implementation of evidence-based practices; 3] Stronger collaboration to promote employment opportunities and 4] Jail diversion strategies, including re-entry programs. EFE has in place a comprehensive community integration advocacy plan. It includes 1] Advocating for Adults with Developmental Disabilities to Live in the Community; 2] Advocating for Adults with Mental Illness to Live in the Community; 3] Advocating for Young Adults to Remain in their Homes and Advocating Against the State's Plan to reopen Lincoln Developmental Center. These and the other actions EFE is taking will undoubtedly have a good effect. But, where is the community Mental Health provider's organization in all of this? What is it doing to advocate for employment opportunities and jail diversion strategies ? I attempted to find out by contacting the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois and ran into a brick wall. I received an email on Feb. 5th stating that, as of Feb. 5th, all emails from me will be blocked. That's the only response I received . In the meantime, EFE says that it is committed to vigorously pursue advocacy efforts so that people with disabilities truly have a choice to live in the community and that community integration becomes a reality in Illinos.