Self-Determination is a method of delivering services to people with developmental disabilities that allows individuals to have more control over the services they receive, the people who provide the services, and the expenditure of public funds to pay for the services. This is an option that must be made available by Community Mental Health agencies for anyone who desires it, including people with the most severe disabilities who have guardians who speak on their behalf. People who want and need a more traditional program of services may choose not to use Self-Determination.
Last March, 2012, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) issued proposed revisions to the Self-Determination Policy and Practice Guidelines. The proposal appeared to be designed as a blunt instrument to bash guardians and to remove them from the planning process for self-determination as much as possible. The vast majority of guardians for people with developmental disabilities are parents, other family members, or close friends of the person with a developmental disability.
Ignoring the jurisdiction of the Probate Court to appoint or remove guardians and to establish the legal disabilities of the person with a developmental disability that lead to the need for guardianship, the MDCH encouraged Community Mental Health agencies to police guardians and circumvent their authority to make decisions on behalf of their wards. The MDCH said that CMH must "…support individuals who have guardians … to identify an independent advocate," (emphasis added), presumably to protect individuals from their court-appointed guardians. To add insult to injury, the guidelines would have allowed CMH to terminate self-determination arrangements when an agency determined that the guardians "restrict the individual's rights."
Thanks to the efforts of ddAdvocates of Michigan and families and other individuals who commented on the proposed Guidelines, most of the guardian-bashing wording was removed. The new guidelines are a great improvement over the initial proposal.
I still believe, however, that the claim by people who promote Self-Determination, that it gives people with disabilities more freedom to choose the services they want and more authority over available resources compared to other arrangements through CMH, is exaggerated. All agreements as to how Self-Determination arrangements will be handled, how much money will be available to pay for services, and how the finances will be managed is subject to the guidance, approval, and continual oversight of the CMH agency. This is to be expected with an agency that has the responsibility for overseeing the expenditure of public funds, primarily Medicaid funds.
It is important to keep other options available when Self-Determination is impractical or is not suitable to the needs of the individual. Self-Determination can place extra burdens on disabled individuals and families to administer the provision of services and funds normally handled by CMH, while the public agency still has control and must approve the expenditure of the funds provided. At best, these arrangements can open up new possibilities for providing and paying for desired services that are beneficial to many recipients of CMH services.