NYS Council of Catholic Charities Directors statement on the protection of people with special needs

Published on June 13th, 2012

Following is a statement of the New York State Council of Catholic Charities Directors.

In the human services arena, the expertise, experience and advice of the Council of Catholic Charities Directors guides the New York State Catholic Conference, which in turn represents in matters of public policy the Roman Catholic Bishops of the eight dioceses of New York State.  Catholic Charities and its affiliated agencies provide comprehensive services to people with special needs throughout the state, with a particular commitment to those who are vulnerable. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in their 2002 pastoral reflection , “A Place at the Table,” restated the commitment to a respect for the dignity of all of God’s children, saying,  “The Gospel and Catholic social teaching place our service of the poor and vulnerable and our work for justice at the center of Christian witness.”

The Council strongly believes that a key measure of any society is how the most vulnerable members are cared for; those with the greatest need are due special attention.  In fact, the Bible tells us that we will be judged by how we treat the most vulnerable.

The Governor’s Special Advisor on Vulnerable Persons, Clarence J. Sundram, recently produced a report appropriately entitled The Measure of a Society: Protection of Vulnerable Persons in Residential Facilities Against Abuse and Neglect. The report examined the problem of abuse and neglect of vulnerable people in residential programs operated or supported by six separate state agencies. It identified gaps and inconsistencies in the system and made recommendations for rectifying existing problems.

Based upon this report legislation has been introduced by the Governor to increase safeguards for people with special needs. One component of the legislation would be the creation of a new state agency to be called the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs.

The Senate has already passed the Governor’s bill. We are aware that there are discussions continuing with the Assembly. We are optimistic that the issues of the appropriate independence and transparency of the proposed new entity will be reached. It is critically important that there be proper checks and balances to ensure that these reforms are effective, efficient and fair to all involved, thus best promoting high quality care of vulnerable New Yorkers.

We anticipate that this important legislation will be passed before the end of the legislative session, scheduled for eight days from now. Persons with special needs who are in residential programs deserve decent, personalized care and human support. Our agencies and direct care workers do an outstanding job. It is important to find ways to recognize this good work while at the same time ensuring proper protections are in place to prevent and deal with abuses. The role of direct care staff in the provision of services is central to the quality of care. Our Council enthusiastically supports these efforts and the attempt to provide greater protections and respect for the innate dignity of vulnerable people with special needs.

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