An Interview with Catherine Strode
The Executive Director of the Arc of Colorado, Marijo Rymer, says the major legislative goals for supporting adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities during the 2017 Session were successful. These issues include banning the use of prone restraints in public schools, establishing a pilot for the creation of an Office of Public Guardianship, Adult Protective Services background checks for direct care providers, and addressing case management conflict of interest.
In an interview with Catherine Strode, Ms. Rymer adds that two public education issues which failed this Session may make a repeat appearance during 2018.
What pieces of legislation were the big wins this Session?
“One of the bills that has a major impact on system change is House Bill 1343, Conflict Free Case Management. With that change, plus other changes that are happening in publicly funded health care in Colorado, we’ll see a vastly different system of long term services and supports overtime. House Bill 1276, a ban on prone restraints in Colorado schools, was a very challenging bill to work on. In some areas of the state, school districts don’t have access to resource officers or even local police to help them in challenging situations. We were able to work through some of those issues with local districts and that bill ended up passing with broad bipartisan support. Another bill creates a pilot project for an Office of Public Guardianship in Colorado. That bill will establish pilot offices in three areas of the state. Colorado currently has no public guardianship options. We have worked on this kind of legislation for years and this year the pilot projects were approved. A minor piece of legislation in terms of the overall picture, but one which we thought was very important, removed all references to mental retardation from Colorado statutes. We supported legislation that added hate crimes committed against people to include adults with disabilities. It’s modernizing to some extent the pieces of legislation that should have been addressed a long time ago.”
Will the bill to ban corporal punishment in schools be reintroduced?
“The major issue here is local control. The Colorado educational system puts significant authority in the hands of local school boards and the administrations they hire. The Colorado Department of Education has minimal supervisory authority over local school districts. We were sorry the corporal punishment bill did not get more of a hearing and didn’t have better support. It’s an issue that may come back. All the evidence indicates kids with disabilities suffer more in the arena of corporal punishment than kids without disabilities. We know that’s a general issue nationwide. In Colorado, the data is difficult to gather. Data is only reported to the state in very limited arenas. There isn’t a lot to help us document that situation.”
What other bills may be reintroduced next Session?
“Another bill that does have a chance of resurfacing is one that would have banned suspending or expelling children under the age of seven. Currently, schools can suspend or expel students of any age and we argued very strongly that is a bad practice. For kids with disabilities, it further isolates them from peers. For kids in general, if you have a negative experience like that in the first grade, the likelihood of you wanting to stay in school as you get older continues to diminish. We are hopeful we can work with the original bill sponsors and other stakeholders to come back with some options. The rural school districts feel they don’t have a lot of tools to support children with behavioral needs. It is a legitimate concern. We would like to be able to figure out ways to help schools address the problems. That was a disappointing loss but I believe it is something we can come back to.”
What service areas for people with IDD will need to be addressed going forward?
“In Colorado, out of home placement for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities is almost nonexistent. We have no providers that are specifically specialized in providing support for young children who cannot be in their homes. In some cases, a child with IDD and a co-occurring mental disorder, may simply be more than a family can handle and may present a danger to him or herself, or to siblings, or even to Mom and Dad. At the current time, the only way families can get out of home placement support is to go through the child welfare system which is not, we believe, the best venue. Years ago when the state relied heavily on institutionalization, the requirement that a court determine that a child had to be placed out of the home was necessary. The need for that particular focus is no longer there. It is going to take some hard work among county Departments of Human Services, the state Department of Human Services, as well as the state Medicaid agency to figure out what kind of options we might create for kids who need out of home placement. That’s an issue we weren’t able to proceed with this year because of the state’s financial situation and the run up against TABOR limitations.”
How does Colorado compare to other states in its services for people with IDD?
“Colorado at one time was considered a highly progressive state in its approach to services for people with IDD. In recent years, I think we lost that edge a little bit. It’s not that we have a significant number of people in state institutions. It’s partly because of our structural funding limitations. We have not been able to keep up with the demand of providing community based services for people. Local control issues combined with extremely weak school funding have made school based supports and services for kids with IDD a real challenge, particularly in rural districts when a student needs intensive support. The cost of providing that becomes onerous. We have examples of schools trying to get out of providing those kinds of service every day. I don’t believe it’s because the intent of the school districts is not to educate those students; it’s because they don’t have the resources to do it.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.