By Gina Macris
Rhode Island appears to be meeting almost 60 percent of court-mandated goals in placing adults with developmental disabilities in jobs paying at least minimum wage, according to newly-released figures which track the state’s progress through Sept. 30 of 2016.
The state had found jobs for 363 individuals, or 58.8 percent of the 651 placements required at that time, according to compliance figures the state submitted to an independent court monitor in accordance with a 2014 federal consent decree that requires community-based day services to correct violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
For one group of individuals protected by the consent decree- those in segregated day programs – the state has made triple the number of required placements. But for other groups, the going has been slower. Only about 22 percent of special education students "exiting" high school got jobs, far short of the 100 percent employment goal. The figures for a third group - adults who had been in so-called sheltered workshops – show 87 percent compliance with the benchmark for job placement at the end of September.
Figures at the bottom of the table, set against a pale blue background, allow comparisons among the latest available job placement numbers Sept. 30 and those at the end of the first and second quarters of 2016.
It’s not surprising that the state does not meet overall compliance with the consent decree, Rhode Island began focusing on compliance only in the last 12 months – two years after the agreement went into effect,
In May, 2016, Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court reinforced the consent decree with an order addressing numerous shortcomings, including an inability to even get an accurate count of the number of individuals protected by the agreement.
McConnell required the state to create a “live” database, always up-to-date, on the population protected by the consent decree – at latest count 3,456 teenagers and adults – that the monitor and the U.S. Department of Justice could use to gauge compliance.
Such an up-to-the-minute database is in the works but has not yet been completed. In the interim, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services has coordinated a cooperative effort involving three state agencies and the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College to connect different sources of data so that the state can make detailed reports to the court, albeit with a time lag. The three state state agencies participating in the combined data effort are the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals; the Department of Education, and the Office of Rehabilitation Services.
The ten-year consent decree has progressively stiffer requirements, with the latest deadlines occurring Jan. 1. It is not yet known how well the state has done against these most recent benchmarks.
Charles Moseley, the monitor, has concluded that the state has “significantly improved its ability and capacity to gather, aggregate and analyze” data required by the consent decree.
Moseley submitted the state’s figures to McConnell March 3, supplementing two earlier reports. One made recommendations on stepping up job placements and other aspects of compliance. .The other made sweeping recommendations that would put emphasis on the needs of of individuals in the funding process for developmental disability services and would reorganize operations of the state Division of Developmental Disabilities to incorporate a seamless and continual quality improvement effort. Both reports have implications for greater costs.
All of Moseley’s recent reports are likely to come up during the next open-court hearing on the consent decree, now scheduled for 10 a.m. March 10 before McConnell. (Two hearings in January and February had been cancelled.)
The progress the state reported as of Sept. 30 reflect the efforts of privately-run service providers who for years have been working under significant financial and bureaucratic constraints that make it difficult for them to hunt for jobs for clients and support them once they find employment.
Front-line workers make poverty-level wages, despite a pay increase approved by the General Assembly in 2016. The legislature also set aside $6.8 million to pay bonuses for new job placements and job retention and for specialized training completed by direct care workers. But that program was still on the drawing boards when the latest data was collected.
In his report on data, Moseley noted that the state did not reach goals for career development plans and benefits counseling. Benefits counseling is necessary to ensure individuals make informed choices about the way particular jobs would affect their government benefits, like supplemental security income (SSI.) Career development plans consider long-range goals, and the intermediate steps necessary to achieve them, in a way that aligns activities with individuals’ needs and interests.
Overall, about 43 percent of the entire consent decree population had career development plans. In one of the earlier reports to McConnell, Moseley was critical of the quality of those career development plans.
In the table above, "youth transition" refers to high school special education students likely to qualify for adult services, and "youth exit"refers to adults who have left school since 2013. Other categories refer to older adults who historically have been in segregated day programs or sheltered workshops. The letters CDP are an acronym for career development plan.
Another table, below, shows that the state had complied with a requirement to provide benefits counseling to young adults with jobs but had failed to similarly advise more than half of older adults who had obtained jobs after 2012. The letters BP are an acronym for benefit plan.
The state reported that those who had jobs worked an average of nearly 12 hours a week and made an average of about $10.00 an hour. The consent decree says the average work week should be 20 hours.
The consent decree requires the state to integrate adults with developmental disabilities in their communities to comply with the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which reaffirmed the rights of citizens with disabilities to receive services in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate under provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. In Rhode Island in 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice found an over-reliance on sheltered workshops paying sub-minimum wages and on isolated day programs that did not offer their clients purposeful activities.
Click here for the monitor's data report.
Click here for the data the state submitted to the monitor.