Abuse in Group and Foster Homes

A group home is a private, nonprofit facility for children or young people who cannot live with their families for a variety of reasons. A group home may also be a residence for adults or seniors and may be privately run or run by local government. In Ohio, the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC 5122-33-01) defines an “Adult group home” as “a residence or facility that provides accommodations and supervision to six to sixteen unrelated adults at least three of whom require personal care services.” Personal care services are daily activities with which one may need assistance, such as bathing, eating, etc.

Adult Family Homes

According to the OAC, an “Adult family home” is a residence for three to five unrelated adults at least three of whom require personal care services.” “Adult day care” is non-residential and “provides a variety of health, social and related support services in a protective setting during part of the day to aged, infirm, or disabled adults who reside elsewhere,” often with family members.

In Ohio, the county arm of the Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) is responsible for responding to reports concerning the abuse and neglect of disabled and handicapped residents who live in group or family homes or attend adult day care. The county board of developmental disabilities receives complaints about resident care, a county investigative agent decides whether the allegations should be pursued and refers the matter to the Ohio DODD if the situation warrants further action. (See Ohio Administrative Code 5101.61 and 5101.62.)

Privately run group homes do not have government oversight unless they receive government funding or someone commits a criminal act involving a resident. A government-run facility must adhere to certain rules and regulations which can determine for whom they will provide services. The facilities must be licensed and regularly inspected.

Group Homes Serve Disabled People

Group homes serve a wide variety of people, but many cater to a particular group such as disabled adults. Some families believe that a group home setting provides a community feeling that is not available in other types of facilities or in an institution.

Disabilities is an umbrella term covering impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure. Difficulty encountered in executing a task or action is an activity limitation. If a person is prevented from participating in what is considered “normal” activity in their everyday society, they have a participation restriction. A disability may be present at birth or occur during a person’s lifetime.

Unfortunately, disabled people are often abused, neglected and exploited. According to Ohio law, “abuse” includes “knowingly causing physical harm or recklessly causing serious physical harm” to a person through physical contact or the inappropriate use of physical or chemical restraint, medication or isolation. Ohio law defines “neglect” as recklessly failing to provide a person with the treatment, care, goods or services necessary to maintain health or safety, resulting in serious physical harm to the patient. “Exploitation” is generally of a financial nature and includes such things as theft, unauthorized use of property, misuse of credit cards and forgery.

Some of this abuse, neglect and exploitation takes place in adult day care facilities and group homes settings. Residents are abused physically, financially, sexually and psychologically. According to the advocacy group Disability Rights Ohio, the abuse is not limited to those who are visibly disabled or physically deformed, but is also seen in those who have learning difficulties or other disabilities.

Categorizing Disability

Conditions causing disability are classified by the medical community in four ways. They are 1) inherited (genetically transmitted); 2) congenital (caused by a mother’s infection or other disease during pregnancy, or by embryonic or fetal developmental irregularities, or injury during or soon after birth; 3) acquired, which includes conditions caused by illness or injury or 4) of unknown origin.

Generally, disabilities fall into seven categories which sometimes overlap. They are:

• Physical disability which is any impairment that limits activities of daily living or impairs a universal ability such as climbing the stairs.

• Sensory disability which impairs one of the senses and usually refers to vision and hearing but can be disorders of the sense of smell and taste, insensitivity to touch, heat, cold and pain and balance disorders.

• Intellectual disability is a broad concept that ranges from mental retardation to cognitive defects too mild to qualify as mental retardation.

• Developmental disability is any disability that results in problems with growth and development. The term is often a synonym for intellectual disability, but encompasses many congenital conditions that have no mental or intellectual components, such as spina bifida.

• Mental health and emotional disabilities which is a mental disorder or mental illness perceived by the majority of society as being outside normal development or cultural expectations.

• Pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) refers to a group of five developmental disorders characterized by differences in the development of multiple basic functions including socialization and communication. These disorders include autism, Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and other non-specified PDD.

• Nonvisible disabilities include chronic disorders such as diabetes, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, epilepsy, narcolepsy, fibromyalgia and some sleep disorders.

Abuse Is Not Reported

Many who have been abused are not likely to report the abuse. They think no one will believe them or that their complaints will be ignored. Studies show these beliefs that their reports will be ignored have validity. The Disability and Abuse Project, based in Los Angeles, did a national study of 7,289 disabled abuse victims and their family members in 2012.

Results showed 62.7% of the disabled did not report abuse to authorities and 41% of victims of sexual abuse did not report abuse. When questioned about the reason they did not report incidents, 58% of those abused claimed they “believed that nothing would happen.” Thirty eight percent said they had been threatened or were otherwise afraid to report the abuse and 33% said they did not know how or where to report abuse.

In 52.9 percent of the cases, the outcome of reporting abuse was that nothing happened, according to the Disability & Abuse survey—exactly what the interviewed victims had stated. The alleged perpetrator was arrested in 9.8% of the cases, according to the survey, again perhaps reinforcing the disabled’s population opinion that it is fruitless to report abuse.

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