CIVIL RIGHTS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

#FreeBritney movement and alternatives to conservatorship

The publicity around the battle to remove Britney Spears’ father as conservator of her estate has uncovered age-old problems and overuse of the conservatorship/guardianship system, legal experts say.

If every person had the support that the pop star has had, the conservatorship system would have been “dismantled a long time ago,” said Jasmine Harris, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey School of Law during the American Bar Association webinar, “#FreeBritney: Transforming and Reforming Conservatorship and Guardianship.”

Experts cited systemic flaws in which students with a disability often are immediately placed under conservatorship once they become adults.

Experts cited systemic flaws in which students with a disability often are immediately placed under conservatorship once they become adults.

Experts agreed that if the general public had the publicity and social media focus surrounding the #FreeBritney movement and conservatorship issues, more people would be free to care for themselves and manage their finances with support. What’s more, alternatives to conservatorship would be more widely considered and used.

Harris said before the public’s attention was focused on the Spears case, conservatorship cases were “under lock and key” and operating on “autopilot” where “accountability (was) absent.”

Also absent: a clear definition for guardianship and conservatorship. Lauren S. Holland, an Oregon Circuit Court judge, said the words have “different inferences and perceptions,” depending on what state you are in.

Experts also cited flaws in the school-to-conservatorship pipeline, in which high school students with a disability often are immediately placed under conservatorship once they become adults. In most cases, courts do not deny requests. “They never say no,” said Jonathan Martinis, senior director for law and policy at the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University.

Martinis said more needs to be done to support self-determination and independence. He suggested an educational campaign around alternatives to conservatorship, such as supporter decision-making, adding that lawyers, doctors, educators and parents should all be better informed about alternatives.

“We can do better,” Martinis said.

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