At the last in a series of legislative hearings in Albany on abuse of the developmentally disabled, a New York state official yesterday cited increased reporting of incidents to the police as evidence of recent progress. Courtney Burke, the state’s new commissioner of the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, which oversees the facilities called out in a recent New York Times expose, noted that about 60 percent of allegations are now being reported directly to law enforcement vs. 17 percent before she took office in March.
Burke’s figures—which suggest that there are still hundreds of cases of alleged abuse going unreported—show some improvement but fall far short of the kind of substantial reform obviously needed. And these cases are just the tip of the iceberg in a system known for cover-ups and a lack of transparency and oversight.
The hearings were prompted by a series of shocking reports by the Times‘ Albany Bureau Chief Danny Hakim that have blown the lid off the “culture of abuse” that led to the death of Jonathan Carey, a 13-year-old with autism who was suffocated by a “caregiver” who improperly restrained him in a van in 2007. Hakim notes in today’s piece that Burke has proposed a bill to bar the agency from hiring people convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses-though not other convicted felons.
A petition is circulating calling for several laws based on bills drawn up by Michael Carey, Jonathan’s father and a tireless advocate for the developmentally disabled.
It calls on state leaders to put basic safety measures in place, including surveillance cameras in facilities and transport vehicles, which might have prevented Jonathan’s death. It calls for improved background checks of applicants’ records, the lack of which has led to the “recycling” of past abusers from one facility to another, and real protections for whistleblowers. Finally it calls for better supports and services by well-trained caregivers to allow more children and adults with disabilities to live at home with loved ones rather than in residential settings.