A bill filed in the S.C. House would set up the first official statewide Guardian Ad Litem program for adults.
Tony Kester, director of the Lt. Governor’s Office on Aging, says the state needs to provide independent advocates for any adult who may become vulnerable and put under the state’s protection. This is a fast-growing need, especially in an aging population of more than 950,000.
The bill, H. 4349, has a similar bill with traction in the Senate and bipartisan support.
Both proposals put the program under the Office on Aging and sets up six staffers to oversee volunteers across the state.
“This would serve any vulnerable adult, it could be a disabled adult over 21 and they may or may not be on Medicaid, but they do not have someone to represent their interests,” said Kester.
Kester said the Department of Social Services takes hundred of adults into protective custody each year.
The guardian would be court-appointed and separate from the S.C. Department of Social Services and health care providers and would serve when there are no appropriate family members to help. In some cases, the client has been taken out of an abusive family home.
The new setup would cost about $400,000 in next year’s state budget, with the plan to ramp up eventually to provide more help in each county, heavily depending upon trained, screened and certified volunteers.
“I’m not sure the best decisions can be made if there is no representation for that vulnerable adult,” Kester said. “So it is really important that we have a pool, statewide, in every county to be in every court hearing.”
Currently, there is a two-person Guardian Ad Litem office at the University of South Carolina, which serves six Midlands counties. Kester said that program has “limped along” without funding, waiting for state support for a larger endeavor. That funding runs out June 30, 2014, so proponents are eager to get a new, broader plan in place.
“We are going to take what is working with them and build on that…we are not going to push that to the side and start over, ” Kester said.
Kester expects the case load to continue to increase, at the same time that his office is recruiting people to help protect the interests of vulnerable adults. There may be a learning curve.
“For some regions of the state, we’ll need to explain the program, ” Kester said.