May 01, 2014

World Congress on Adult Guardianship Highlights International Perspectives

Erica Wood

(Note: The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: BIFOCAL Vol. 35, Issue 5.)

Over 360 participants from 22 countries on six continents came together on May 28–30 at the 2014 World Congress on Adult Guardianship. The lively three-day event offered those involved in guardianship and decision-making a rare opportunity to share problems and solutions with peers from other countries. The theme of the multi-cultural Congress was “Promising Practices to Ensure Excellence in Guardianship Around the World.”

The Congress featured 42 general and breakout sessions including a keynote presentation by Hon. Kathy Greenlee, Administrator for Community Living and Assistant Secretary for Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In her talk entitled “The Importance of Self,” Assistant Secretary Greenlee challenged guardians to support people’s sense of self, and to look toward the assets and not the limitations of those they serve. “At 90,” she said, “what you have more than anything else is your self. Can you be yourself in a guardianship? It all starts with knowing more about the lives and the hopes and the goals and the self of that person.”

Comparative panels and workshops highlighted a universal need to address the growing population of older persons and individuals with disabilities, and outlined a variety of decision-making approaches in law and practice. While many sessions focused on improving guardianship systems, others explored an array of less restrictive options, including supported decision-making as set out in the U.S. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Sharon Lewis, Principal Deputy Administrator, Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, discussed community living for people with disabilities in the United States, as called for by the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act. She then announced that the Administration on Community Living is seeking to fund a Supported Decision-Making Technical Assistance and Resource Center. Jenny Hatch, an individual with Down Syndrome, told a heart-rending story of securing her rights.

A showcase panel on guardianship reform in Asia, moderated by University of Missouri Law Professor David English—who is also Chair of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging—brought together experts from Japan and China, who described recent changes in the law, as well as those still needed. Diverse workshop topics ranged from capacity assessment in Australia and elder abuse prevention in Germany to decision-making options for young adults in Korea and the role of government fiduciaries in Singapore—and much more. Workshop presenters explored guardian qualifications, court monitoring, undue influence, jurisdictional concerns, mediation, human rights, veterans and disability benefits and other issues from differing perspectives.

World Congress participants came, speaking many languages, from Europe, Asia, North America, and Australia—as well as first-time representatives from Africa (Nigeria) and South America (Argentina). All were eager to learn from each other and compare practices.

Convened at Arlington, Virginia, the 2014 World Congress was hosted by the National Guardianship Network, which includes 11 U.S. national organizations dedicated to effective adult guardianship law and practice, in affiliation with the International Guardianship Network. It was the third such worldwide event, following the 2010 World Congress in Yokohama, Japan, and the 2012 World Congress in Melbourne, Australia. The fourth World Congress will be in Berlin, Germany in 2016. The Congress was supported by the NGN organizations, the Borchard Foundation Center on Law & Aging, and the ACTEC Foundation. Co-Chairs of the World Congress Planning Committee were Sally Hurme of the Center for Guardianship Certification Board and Kim Grier, President of the National Guardianship Association.

The Journal of International Aging, Law & Policy, a publication of Stetson University College of Law, invited Congress presenters and participants to submit papers. In addition, a goal of the Congress was to form an online International Resource Library on Adult Guardianship by collecting the presentations, brochures, manuals, handbooks and other materials that could be of help worldwide. There is also a World Congress app. It is available for Apple and Android devices by searching “world congress guardianship” on the App Store or Google Play. ■

Erica Wood

About the Authors: Erica Wood is the Assistant Director of the American Bar Association's Commission on Law and Aging in Washington, DC.