The Arc Wisconsin is a key policy partner with the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities Living Well grant which is focusing on improving abuse and neglect reporting systems for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in Wisconsin.
Recently The Arc Wisconsin provided testimony on a new bill – AB 400 – which would ensure investigations happen for reports of abuse or neglect for adults at risk.
See our testimony below.
September 8, 2021
To: Representative Spiros, Chair
Members, Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety
From: Lisa Pugh, Executive Director; The Arc Wisconsin
Re: Assembly Bill 400 Relating to: responses to reports relating to elder adults at risk and adults at risk.
The Arc is the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families. In Wisconsin we have 14 local chapters. Our mission is to improve access to the community for people with IDD and to ensure they are free from abuse and neglect.
Available research indicates that people with disabilities are 4 to 10 times more likely to be a victim of a crime or abuse than people without disabilities. In Wisconsin alone there has been a 38% increase in reporting of abuse/neglect in our Adult Protective Services system for adults at risk (those ages 18-59) from 2005-2019.
Nationally, and in Wisconsin the COVID-19 pandemic and the direct care workforce crisis have made things worse. People are frequently going without care or being supported by poorly trained, low-wage workers – increasing their risk of abuse or neglect. Several states have been under court order to make reporting system improvements after vulnerable people have been violently assaulted or died.
Wisconsin’s system for responding to reports of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities is fragmented. People with disabilities say they are confused about who to contact, are sometimes not believed or never hear back about the results of a report. In addition, the system lacks funding; the APS system supporting vulnerable adults has not had an increase since 2006.
Recently The Arc Wisconsin took a call from a mother whos adult son came home from his day program with unexplained scrapes and bruises. There was no note about what happened, and her son cannot speak. The day program indicated they had no idea how the injuries occurred. This mother had no idea who to call or how to make a report.
Examples of states that are doing better than Wisconsin include New York where they have developed a central repository for all reports of allegations of abuse, neglect – tracking all reported cases to resolution and ensuring all allegations are fully investigated. A special Individual and Family Support Unit provides guidance, information, and support to victims and their families throughout the process.
In Massachusetts an independent state agency receives and screens reports of suspected abuse, neglect, and deaths through a 24-Hour Hotline, conducts investigations, ensures that the appropriate protective services are provided and offers training and education for service providers, law enforcement personnel and the public.
Tennessee’s Abuse Registry is part of their holistic “Protection from Harm” system and is user friendly. All incidents are logged into a database and reviewed by the central office team weekly for trends.
The Arc Wisconsin believes our state’s Adult Protective Services system needs updating and new funding. AB 400 addresses a small but important part of Wisconsin’s APS system by aligning the Vulnerable Adult and Elder Adult at-Risk statutes.
Current state law requires investigation into any reports of abuse made to Adult Protective Services (APS) for Elder- Adults at Risk (ages 60+). However, current statutes give APS the option to investigate reports about adults with disabilities (Adults at Risk age 18-59). This legislation will align investigation requirements ensuring that an adult-at-risk agency that receives a report or has a reason to believe an adult-at-risk is a subject of abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, or self-neglect will respond by taking at least one investigatory action which is already specified in the law or by referring the report to another agency for investigation.
Regardless of someone’s age, the way in which an investigation into an abuse claim is made should not differ. Making this simple language change will keep people safer and create more awareness about the risks vulnerable people are facing. We hope the legislature will consider adequately funding the APS system in the future.