Legal and Protective Services for Your Disabled Child

Public legal and protective services are available to help your disabled son or daughter. A quick internet search should allow you to find an agency to contact directly, or which may refer you to the right people. Here is a summary of legal and protective services that you should be aware of.

Protecting Rights

Individuals with disabilities are sometimes denied the rights to which they are entitled as citizens because of their disabilities. Sometimes their rights to important services are violated.

Individuals with disabilities have the same rights as other citizens of the same age and should be considered capable of exercising those rights unless they are legally proven to be incapable of doing so. Those rights include, but are not limited to:

  • the right to life
  • equal access to educational opportunity
  • the right to own and dispose of property
  • vote
  • marry
  • be paid in accordance with legal wage requirements for work performed
  • an education in the least restrictive environment.

No right should be limited or modified without due process, and rights should be limited only to the extent necessary by the person’s inability to be responsible for himself or herself.

When it is felt that civil or human rights are being violated, there are organizations to contact which can help interpret laws and regulations, investigate complaints, and, if necessary, intervene on a person’s behalf. These organizations can help an individual become his or her own advocate, help file a grievance, appeal what may be unfair administrative practices, ask for a fair hearing, or help take any other necessary action to remedy the situation.

Abuse and Neglect

Another area of concern under legal and protective services is the problem of abuse and neglect. When parents feel anger, despair, confusion, and frustration, and direct those feelings toward their children or any other member of the family, they need help.

Abuse happens when a person is harmed because of physical beatings, sexual misuse, cutting, burning, severe mental stress, or dependency on drugs at birth. Neglect happens when a person is not given needed food, shelter, clothing, medical attention, or supervision, or when a child is emotionally deprived.

Service providers are mandated by law to report suspected abuse or neglect of children or adults. Instances of neglect, abuse, or exploitation of children should be reported promptly. You can contact, for example, your community health aide, public health nurse, community mental health center, a local crisis line or center, or search for “crisis intervention organizations”. If you are on a military base, contact the community services office or any of the above resources. In an emergency, call the police.

Instances of neglect, abuse, or exploitation of all vulnerable adults, including elders, should be reported. A vulnerable adult means a person 18 years of age or older who, because of a physical or mental impairment, is unable to meet their own needs or to seek help without assistance.

Protection services can include emergency shelter, complaint investigation, counseling, homemaker and child care services, legal advocacy and assistance, medical or psychiatric care, residential care, transportation, and participation in self-help groups such as Parents Anonymous.

Preparing a Will

When you plan for the future of your son or daughter with a disability, you will want to make sure that his or her needs are provided for if something should happen to you. You will want to write a will and plan your estate so that the special needs of your child are considered.

While it may be legal for a person to make his or her own will, it is not advised. Fees charged by attorneys are small compared to the technical errors, time, trouble, and costs which are often involved in settling estates when wills are not properly prepared.

If you write your own will, you may think your words are absolutely clear. Remember that your words may not mean the same to others who read them after your death. An attorney can answer questions and give you advice on matters such as tax consequences, full or partial guardianship, probate, trusts, and estate planning.

Keep in mind, a child who inherits money or other property of value may lose important state and federal benefits as a result, leaving them worse off than before. Beware of irrevocable trusts, which may have the same effect.

Without a will your property will be distributed according to the laws of your state. You lose the privilege of naming an executor or guardian; you might face higher taxes on your estate; and you may be leaving your property to persons other than those of your choice.

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