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Marie Szaniszlo: New law will create registry of abusive caregivers

Boston Herald - 2/15/2020

Feb. 15--A state commission will create a registry of caregivers who have been abusive of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities under a bill Gov. Charlie Baker signed this week in the wake of a 30% increase in reports of abuse.

Named for a young, autistic man who was abused by a caretaker, "Nicky's Law" will require the Disabled Persons Protection Commission to establish by Jan. 31, 2021, a registry of care providers against whom the commission has made a "substantiated finding of registrable abuse."

"The Baker-Polito administration believes that ensuring the safety and well-being of all the individuals receiving services through the Department of Developmental Services is of paramount importance," said Terry MacCormack, a spokesman for Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

Victims would have to be aged 18 to 59 -- the age group handled by DDS -- and dependent upon a caretaker for their daily needs, said Nancy Alterio, the commission's executive director, and the abuse would have to result in a physical or emotional injury.

"They deserve to live a life free of abuse or neglect. They have feelings. They feel pain and anguish like anyone else," Alterio said. "It's important we recognize their trauma and help them heal. And we have to make sure the abuse doesn't happen again and the person who abused them is not allowed to work with anyone else."

The Department of Developmental Services and employers contracting with care providers will be prohibited from hiring anyone on the registry, she said.

Alleged abusers will have the right to appeal to the commission, Alterio said, and if their appeals are denied, they would have the right to try again to have their names removed from the registry after five years.

The law also requires the commission to notify the care provider's last known employers, as well as the victim and their guardian of any finding of abuse, any appeal challenging the commission's determination, or any petition to remove a caretaker from the registry, she said.

Baker's signing of the bill on Thursday follows a 30% increase from fiscal 2019 to fiscal 2020 in cases assigned for investigation after being reported to the commission's hotline (800-426-9009), Alterio said.

"I don't think abuse is on the rise," she said, "but research shows that abuse of persons with disabilities is more prevalent than abuse of the general public. And I think people in Massachusetts are doing a better job of recognizing and reporting abuse to DPPC."

In fiscal 2017, the commission received 11,395 reports of abuse, according to The Arc of Massachusetts, an advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Of those investigated, 1,478 abuse reports were referred to the local district attorney's office, and 102 resulted in criminal charges.


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