Oklahoma Developmental Disability Services has announced the cutting of guardianship services beginning July 1, 2016 by limiting eligibility to Hissom Class Members and a few select other individuals. After 20 years, the privatization of a portion of this program through a contract with TARC for the ARCCorps Program has been discontinued due to reduced DHS funding as mandated by the Oklahoma legislature. All services currently provided by the ARCCorps Program staff would become the responsibility of state employees at DDS, despite the fact that the area Guardianship Coordinator positions were eliminated in the first round of DHS staff reductions and Case Management staff has been reduced.
This action raises several concerns about protecting the rights of people with developmental disabilities served by the State. Currently ARCCorps volunteer coordinators provide ongoing support to 676 volunteers. Case Managers within DDS will become be responsible for providing continued support to volunteers. For many individuals served by DDS, the ARCCorps volunteer is the only individual not paid to be part of their life and serves as a critical safeguard.
“We are concerned that some of the currently matched volunteers will not be able to continue to be involved without the availability of support from TARC staff,” said TARC Executive Director John Gajda. ARCCorps staff routinely send out approximately 500 reminders each year to volunteer guardians and assist them in preparing the annual reports they are required to submit to the court. DDS will not continue to provide timely reminders to volunteers that they have reports due. Teams in DDS areas throughout the state have already completed a number of capacity assessments that have determined that an individual is not capable of providing consent and is in need of a guardian. These individuals have already been referred to TARC and any volunteer responses received will be referred back to DDS.
TARC has operated the ARCCorps program since 1996 after DDS staff were unsuccessful in meeting the need for volunteer guardians and advocates. The ARCCorp program staff has been matching minor children in the custody of DHS being served by Child Welfare with volunteer guardians so they can transition to DDS and the Child Welfare case can be closed. The elimination of the ARCCorps program may impede implementation of the Pinnacle Plan that has been imposed on DHS by the Federal court.
“These are challenging times that threaten the progress we have made in Oklahoma for people with developmental disabilities and their families,” Gajda said. “TARC remains committed to its mission to advocate for Oklahomans with developmental disabilities and their rights to receive the assistance they need and deserve in making their lives the best they can be,” he added.