SWK students participate in 14th annual James L. Stone Legislative Symposium

The historical, ethical, political, and economic considerations regarding residential care for persons with special needs were explored during the Syracuse University School of Social Work’s 14th Annual James L. Stone Legislative Policy Symposium on Friday, October 26. The event, which is co-sponsored by the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, was organized around the theme, “The Measure of a Society: What Does New York State Owe its Most Vulnerable Citizens?” State officials, disability advocates, persons who have direct experience as consumers of state-funded residential care, and service providers explored the likely impact of the recently established Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, which tracks and investigates complaints related to abuse and neglect.

A recent New York Times series exposed physical, sexual, and psychological abuses of residents with conditions like Down Syndrome, autism, and cerebral palsy. The series also cast light on Medicaid fraud in group homes and institutions; over-drugging to keep people sedated; widespread persecution of whistleblowers; and discrepancies between agencies about what is and isn’t legal. Early this year, Governor Cuomo commissioned a report on the practices of six state agencies that oversee residential programs for vulnerable populations. Following its publication in April 2012, the Governor requested, and on June 19, 2012 the New York Legislature passed, legislation establishing the Justice Center and designed according to the Governor’s office, “to establish the strongest standards and practices in the nation for protecting people with special needs and disabilities.”

Marc Brandt, executive director, New York State ARC, spoke on the Justice Center Legislation and what it means. James L. Stone, SU School of Social Work alumnus whose support makes the symposium possible, offered reflections on serving vulnerable populations. Stone is the former commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health, Deputy Administrator of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services for the US DHHS, and Acting Director of Behavioral Health for the Indian Health Service, US DHHS. Panelists and topics included:

Advocates Discuss Safe, Competent, and Compassionate Living Environments
Moderator: Alejandro Garcia, Professor, SU School of Social Work; Panelists: Michael Kennedy, Field Assistant, Self Advocacy Association of New York, CNY Office, and Nicholas Cappoletti, Executive Director, Advocates Incorporated.

State Perspectives on the Politics, Policy, and Complexities of Establishing the Justice Center
Moderator: Nancy Mudrick, Professor, SU School of Social Work; Panelists: Assemblyman Michael Kearns, Assembly District 145, John Allen, Special Asst. to Commissioner, Director, Office of Consumer Affairs, NYS Office of Mental Health, and Kerry Delaney, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Counsel, OPWDD.

Advocates and Providers Assess Local Implications
Moderator: Maria Brown, Professor of Practice, School of Social Work; Panelists: Judy Bliss-Ridgeway, President, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Syracuse, Jimmy Curtin, Director of Developmental Disabilities, Elmcrest, Stephen Russell, Vice-Pres., Developmental Disability Services, Liberty Resources, Inc., and Laura Greenfield, Independent Living Liaison, OPWDD.