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Father tells lawmakers: Missouri's adult guardians program is flawed

by Joe Gamm | November 4, 2021 at 4:05 a.m. | Updated November 11, 2021 at 6:12 p.m.

A Missouri man told a House committee the state's adult guardians program is flawed and presented potential fixes Wednesday afternoon.

In an emotional presentation, Christopher Cross said he has for more than a decade told lawmakers his concerns about the state's program.

Cross, the legal guardian of 40-year-old Cory Cross, told the Subcommittee on Mental Health Policy Research the current one-size-fits-all program doesn't work for all people with intellectual disabilities, especially those with felony convictions.

He said the Missouri Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders (Mo WINGS) is set up to keep some adults who require guardians from succeeding. He acknowledged courts convicted Cory of a sexual assault of a 17-year-old. While in prison, Cross alleged, there was a conspiracy to try to kill Cory. And staff gave Cory medication he wasn't supposed to take.

Cross filed a federal lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Corrections.

"All refused to hold prison and medical staff accountable," Cross said. "Even legislators did not care what happened."

He added that sex offender programs are intentionally designed to lock intellectually disabled people like Cory up for the rest of their lives.

Cory is now 12 years crime-free, Cross said.

And Cross offered a 19-page bill to legislators, so they might consider changing Missouri's adult guardian system.

"Guardians are the gatekeepers to everything (for their wards)," Cross said. "Everything goes through us. We have statutory powers that even a parent can't have."

He referred to an earlier witness who testified that before his child died by suicide, he had regularly been taking the boy to a child psychiatrist. For about six months, the boy seemed to be getting better. Then he died. The boy's psychiatrist asked the parents to come in during the boy's next scheduled appointment. He told them the boy wasn't better - that the opposite was true - the boy had been much, much worse. The parents never knew because the psychiatrist withheld that information.

"When a parent can't know what a child's diagnosis is - you can't do that to a guardian," Cross said. "I have the statutory authority to put (my ward) on a 30-day mental health hold."

He had to explain that to a police officer.

Cross' recommendation was the state move from a single definition of a guardian (appointed by a court to have care and custody of an adult person who has been determined to be incapacitated).

His proposal would create a three-tier classification system within guardianship - general, specialized and forensic.

"General is the lowest," Cross said. "(It involves) somebody who requires little supervision, but still requires a guardian."

Specialized guardianship would be used for wards who are incapacitated or disabled, and need a guardian. They may have special medical need for ongoing treatment. Without treatment, their lives could be in danger. They would require a little more structure and supervision.

Forensic guardians would serve anybody with substantial chronic criminal history, is a sex offender or is a high risk of crime.

The tiers system better defines how and why guardians serve their wards.

"It helps to better identify incidents of abuse and neglect," he said. "This model focuses on the guardian and the ward working together. It can be done."

Other witnesses Wednesday afternoon offered gut-wrenching testimony about losing family members to mental illness.

Witnesses told the subcommittee they lost family members to suicide or saw them imprisoned because of mental illness.

An Ohio man, Larry Ealy, testified his son, who had experienced mental illness, disappeared while in Missouri.

And other witnesses testified about the efforts organizations are making to protect people's mental health.

Alicia Jones Pittman is the behavioral health program director for 42CARES, which is an employee assistance program offered to Kansas City firefighters through the firefighters' union. The program is aimed at preventing suicides.

As the director, Pittman is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The resource has been extremely successful in reducing the number of firefighters who have died by suicide, she said.

Eric Rose, local 42 secretary treasurer, said a friend of his took his own life right in front of his crew, his mother and his father.

"Our goal is to get (union) members help before they get to that point," Rose said, and added that four Kansas City firefighters killed themselves within a few months of each other recently. "I had to go knock on a former council member's door and inform her that her son took his own life. I don't want to have to do that again. I know we can't stop them all. I just want to get them the help they need."

Lawmakers pointed out that police and firefighters throughout Missouri have similar experiences and have to overcome trauma.

They wondered how the program might be adapted to fit other organizations around the state.

Print Headline: Father tells lawmakers: Missouri’s adult guardians program is flawed


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