40% of Allegations of Abuse of Individuals w. Disabilities in New York Not Reported

At a hearing on Monday before New York State legislators, Courtney Burke, the new commissioner of the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, revealed a disturbing figure: About 40 percent of the allegations of physical abuse of the developmentally disabled at group homes and institutions in New York in recent months have not been reported to law enforcement authorities — even though notification is already required by law.

Burke also mentioned figures that seem to indicate some progress in reporting — and protecting — individuals with disabilities from abuse by staff since she took over the troubled agency in March: According to the New York Times, only 17 percent of allegations of physical abuse were reported to law enforcement before Burke began her tenure; now, some 60 percent are. Further, almost 88 percent of allegations of sexual abuse have been reported since Burke took her job, up from about 75 percent.

A New York Times series by Danny Hakim has detailed “lapses” — that seems too light a word — in New York state’s care of those with developmental disabilities. As Hakim says, “the state has retained workers who committed physical or sexual abuse, rehired many workers it had fired, shunned whistle-blowers and rarely reported allegations of abuse to law enforcement.” To address these problems, Burke is proposing legislation

…that would bar the agency from hiring people convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses; it would not prohibit employing other convicted felons. The bill would make it clear that an individual with a developmental disability receiving state services could not legally consent to sexual contact with a staff member; the measure is aimed at curbing sexual assaults.

In her testimony, Ms. Burke did not directly address what many critics see as one of the agency’s serious problems, its lack of transparency. The agency often cites state privacy laws for refusing to release even redacted copies of reports of abuse.

I can’t say that a parent feels too comfortable knowing that a child with disabilities who has — like my teenage autistic son Charlie and like Jonathan Carey, who was killed in 2007 when a state care worker restrained him in a minivan — severe difficulties in communicating could be “cared for” by individuals who have criminal records. Clearly we can do more to demand that our children who are among the most vulnerable are cared by staff workers who are not only appropriately trained and supervised, but screened for any past history of abuse or other issues. 

The imperative of reporting and investigating abuses, and of documenting the histories of staff who have committed abuses, is underscored by a report in today’s San Jose Mercury News. Jerry Johnson, a special education teacher at a Vallejo, CA, elementary school, was arrested on Monday night on the charges of raping an 18-year-old woman who is described as “developmentally challenged” and with “the mentality of a 7-year-old.”

One way to keep our individuals with disabilities safe is by ensuring that abuses are reported as soon as possible and then immediately addressed so that the same mistakes, and the same abuses, don’t keep happening over, over and over again. 



Take action!

Sign the petition to Prevent Abuse of Adults with Autism and Other Disabilities!

Sign the petition to  Makes Laws to Protect Children & Individuals with Disabilities


Related Care2 Coverage

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Disabled Children Abused and Beaten in State Institutions

Caregiver Charged in Death of Autistic Man Was Using Her Cell Phone While at Work

Photo from the Jonathan Carey Foundation.


K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Petra Luna
Petra Luna6 years ago

Will people contact Lika from Youth Voice Initiative with stories and testimonies of your real life situations where you know of a disabled child being abused, and what you feel should have happened? Thanks. The website is www.youthvoiceinitiative.org - her email is lika.yvi@gmail.com.

She's getting April's Law Wisconsin passed as we speak, and practically by her self, pushed it through in about 2 and a half years... It would have been more like 2, but the budget stuff got in the way. Usually it takes a FEW years, and a large group of people. She's also getting a federal version of April's Law, as well as one for male abuse. I think she can help get something for disabled children also.

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Don't worry about this- be REpug and only worry about fetuses!

Jonni Stormo
Jonni S6 years ago

"I can't say that a parent feels too comfortable knowing that a child with disabilities who has -- like my teenage autistic son Charlie and like Jonathan Carey, who was killed in 2007 when a state care worker restrained him in a minivan -- severe difficulties in communicating could be "cared for" by individuals who have criminal records."

I have a huge problem with this. Is this meant to imply that all people who have criminal records are necessarily bad or violent people? That is such a false and stereotypical assumption. Yes, there are people who I would consider bad and who I wouldn't want in a helping profession, and yes some of those people are in prison. But a huge amount of people get arrested because they found themselves in a bad circumstance or made a bad decision. Those people have a hard enough time trying to find a job so they can move on with the rest of their lives, without people making these sweeping generalizations about people with records as inherently evil.

Past Member
Past Member 6 years ago

Not surprising as the bullies of the world will always try to find a way to hurt those weaker than them. To see how The City of NY, BigPharmacuticals treat black & hispanic foster kids,[who are HIV positive] watch the BBC Documentary on YouTube called, 'Guinea Pig Kids' It's short & gets to the point. Peace & Love to you ~

Arielle Black-Foley

How terrible. Petition signed.

Brian P.
.6 years ago

Those least able to defend themselves are often the most marginalized and abused in our society...just look at how we treat people with disabilities, the elderly and the poor...CONservatives don't care about them because they have nothing to gain from them (other than cheap labor).

My aunt (may she RIP) had the intellectual abilities of a 5 year old and spent a number of years in institutions and group homes where she was poorly treated by indifferent and often poorly paid staff. Fortunately as these things came to light the family was able to get her into a home that was truly compassionate and she really thrived after that.

Social responsibility is the obligation of all governments and how we treat the most vulnerable speaks volumes about the values of our leadership and the population at large.

I find it interesting that regressives will stand united in opposition to a woman aborting a fetus that will be born with disabilities but they all jump ship when it comes to providing support for that parent and child so they can live with dignity. Quite the contradictory hypocrisy isn't it?

Teddie S.
Teddie S6 years ago

I'm all for having nanny cams used when it comes to making sure that people are not being abused, especially for someone who can't communicate what is going on in their day to day life.

Carol Ann O.
Carol Ann O6 years ago

R.N. are required to report upon SUSPISION ! ! or risk their license. I have seen disgusting things in home health care and institutions . so unbelieveable that I had another do a visit for me to confirm It was not my imagination gone wild. These perpertrators can be very sneaky and I was LUCKY enough to be employed by an organization that spent the time to train for what signs could be hidden or missed,Having a special needs child that will probably outlive me has caused me so much worry. Every place that seems safe.. all seem to have "secrets " that you have to be a detective to find. Government subsidized are the worst. Beware as facilities are closed due to the economy and reckless Gov waste. more private sectors are being forced to take in people they are not equiped to protect others from...With my own eyes, I say this>

Valarie S.
Valarie Snell6 years ago

As a mandated reporter myself, I have attempted to make a child abuse report to Child Protective Services in New York, as one of my client's granddaughter resided there.
The case worker would not take my report, as she appeared to want myself to investigate before I made the report. As a counselor and not an invetigator, I found this to be ridiculous, and neglectful to child that I was attempting to protect.
I do not know if other manidated reporters in New York have had similar experiences, but there are only so many times that someone would attempt to make a report before giving up.