One of our employees spoke last week with a staff member from the local Community Center Board. This is the agency that receives and allocates the state funding for care for disabled adults in the county. This staff member mentioned that she had always viewed the Ranchers at Triangle Cross Ranch as prisoners because she thought they were isolated and "held hostage" at the Ranch. I want to respond to that point of view.
The system endorsed by the state of Colorado specifies that adults with disabilities must be integrated into the community. This is not a choice. This is a mandate. At first blush, it appears that this philosophy is so correct and so right on target that few people ever challenge it. Of course disabled individuals should be included in the community at large! Of course adults with disabilities should be surrounded by all types of individuals and be considered a vital part of the "normal" population! Who can disagree with that? I can't!
However, in practice, the issues are more than just integration and inclusion. DD adults are very open to use and abuse by others--people who, both disabled and non-disabled, have something to gain from manipulating and controlling. The instances of abuse are many and include everything from financial exploitation to sexual abuse. Let me tell you some stories to illustrate this important situation.
Gina spent several years in a state funded facility in Mississippi. The youngest child of the family, she had lived with her parents and traveled extensively with her mother until the time of her mother's death. Gina is diagnosed with mild retardation and has behaviors that include stealing, hoarding and gathering "shiny stuff" and "pretties", and items that are related to nature. When promised gifts and goodies, Gina will do whatever she is told to do in order to get her prize. In the previous facility, staff members and other residents purchased sexual favors from Gina in exchange for marbles and trinkets. Gina lives at the Ranch now, and after a brief and very difficult period, is blooming little by little.
Mark is an autistic man who came to the Ranch at the age of 22. His parents, not knowing what to do with him, used Mark for free manual labor at their home and business and locked him in his bedroom each evening and whenever they weren't at home. When they were gone for weekends, Mark was left locked in his room with no one to help him or interact with him, a limited supply of food and water and a toilet "container". Mark was hit over the head with a 2x4 by his father because he couldn't perform his work duties to his father's satisfaction. A few weeks later, Mark was brought to the Ranch and abandoned. Every time money became tight for his family, they would lobby to bring him back home so they could control his SSI and SSDI. Mark refused to return to his parents' home. He lived at the Ranch for 22 years until just recently when he became eligible for comprehensive services through Medicaid.
David was placed in two different group homes in his 36 years, one lasting several weeks and the other less than 48 hours. Each placement ended because David was severely beaten by staff members and retrieved from the hospital by his mother. David is a very big person with a kind and gentle heart, but very little self control and no concept of his strength. To integrate David at this time would put David's safety at risk and would scare the people that he comes in contact with. David is living at the Ranch and working at learning proper social interactions with a small group of people who know and care about him.
Bob has lived in several group homes in Colorado. Even though his mother lives quite close and is very involved in his life, he reports that he was raped by another male resident during one of his placements. Bob is autistic with mild retardation, so it's difficult to determine details and time periods from his reports. Bob also has an excellent memory and he struggles with his memories, which appear to be vivid. He lives at the Ranch, feels comfortable enough to share his fears with his staff member and enjoys life, for the most part.
Levi came to the Ranch as a very high functioning 18-year-old. He had serious problems with judgment and decision making and refused to stay on the Ranch because he believed he could live on his own. Levi left the Ranch and refused his parents' oversight, moving in with a person he met at a job interview. This person talked Levi into signing over his SSI and SSDI in payment for a place to live. Levi was kicked out of the house after 3 days and it took another 90 days for his SSI and SSDI payments to be restored to his parents. Levi was later talked into participating in credit card fraud. He was arrested while the person who used him in the scam disappeared with the money. He has been homeless for weeks at a time and continues to be manipulated by predators who can spot him a mile away. We do not know where Levi is at this time.
I could go on. Triangle Cross Ranch is not a facility for abused adults. We deal with very typical DD people, and yet the stories of past abuse are more the norm than the exception. Is this a failure of the state system? Not really. Many DD adults thrive in the established system, but like any other model of care (including Triangle Cross Ranch) it is not a system without its problems.
Not all DD adults are able to thrive when thrust into the larger community. Some need additional oversight and some the acceptance and security of living among peers within the same community for lengthy periods of time so that their self-esteem can grow. The Ranch is an option for such people. They have the opportunity to work on-site. They have recreational options along with friendships and relationships. Most importantly, they have the opportunity to interact with the larger community, but on their terms and at their own rate, rather than according to a government mandate. The limitations in place at the Ranch are designed to protect the Rancher from harm by predators, hold Ranchers accountable for their own actions and teach and train them in the ways of adult behavior. To perceive Ranchers as hostages is to misunderstand the needs of the Ranchers and to be misinformed of the facts.
No single model of care has all the answers for DD adults because they are all so different and their needs are so varied. The people who house and work with DD adults, loving them purely for who they are, are heroes no matter what model they follow. I believe that the CCB staff member is changing her point of view. Why else would she admit to such a thoroughly biased opinion without knowing the facts? Because of our model of care, TCR is denied government funding. In many ways, this is freeing because we can continue to care for our Ranchers according to our convictions and according to actual needs, rather than assumed needs. In other ways, it's troubling because those agencies that receive government funds tend to quote the party line, making judgements without benefit of knowledge. I can't blame them. You just don't bite the hand that feeds you.
However, regardless of the perceptions of those who are uninformed, Triangle Cross Ranch will continue to become a viable option for those whose funding has been cut or eliminated, for those who haven't been able to find success in the larger community and for those whose families just feel better knowing their family member is sheltered from predators.
Come on out and visit us. Be informed. Find out for yourself. We're always glad to see you.