Nobody Wants Sarah

Sometime this year, Sarah Morgan will turn twenty-three.  She was born with fetal alcohol syndrome.  This means that her mother drank too much when she was pregnant and permanently messed up Sarah’s brain.  Sarah has an IQ of 65.  The polite term for this level of intelligence is “mild mental retardation.”  She has other problems as well that make it very hard for her to function on her own.

Today, the State of Colorado, which has cared for her for most of her life, after her parent’s parental rights were terminated, has officially and publicly announced that even though she has “no one to turn to except a public agency like DHS” that it won’t provide someone to help Sarah take care of herself anymore.  The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded its opinion denying relief to Sarah Morgan by stating:

[F]or persons like Morgan, who have been “wards of the State” for much of their lives and whose disabilities render them incapacitated as defined by law, guardianship through a public agency may be the last resort before they fall through the cracks of our society.

But, the Court, finding no legal basis to do otherwise, sent Sarah Morgan down into those cracks.  Problems

Experts say Sarah Morgan has attachment disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder, and a neurological processing disorder (there are many disorders that fit in this general category).  In concrete terms, this means that she is prone to at least some of the following:

Losing temper
Arguing with adults
Refusing to follow the rules
Deliberately annoying people
Blaming others
Easily annoyed
Angry and resentful
Spiteful or even revengeful

Sarah is not a sweet little angel who is easy to take care of, for reasons she had no control over.

According to the court, she has an impaired ability to make appropriate decisions concerning her personal safety.  Also:

she has difficulty with abstract reasoning, language comprehension, and the arithmetic necessary for managing her finances; and she was likely to be overwhelmed with the tasks of every day life.

How She Got Here

From the time the courts terminated her mother and father’s parental rights long ago until December of 2004, when she was twenty, she was under the custody of the Colorado Department of Human Services. 

There is state funding to provide for dependent and neglected children until they turn age twenty-one.  There are only very limited resources, however, to take care of adults who need care from guardians.  According to the Court:

there was evidence DHS had only one employee funded to act a a guardian for incapacitated adults, who was already responsible for as many wards as one person could handle.

A woman named Eva Mesa stepped up to act as her guardian at that point and served until June of 2005.  But, the task was more than she could handle and she relinquished her guardianship six months after it started. 

The guardian ad litem appointed to look out for Sarah Morgan’s interests in this case had to be replaced due to her retirement from the practice of law, during the pendency of the appeal in 2006.

A Court appointed DHS as guardian of Sarah Morgan in 2005 (during the Republican Governor Owens’ Administration), but “DHS argues it did not accept its appointment as permanent guardian for Morgan and therefore, the trial court lacked the authority to appoint it to be Morgan’s guardian.”

The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with this Department of Human Service theory today, rejecting the holding of the Montana Supreme Court that the Department of Human Services could be compelled to act as a guardian of last resort, based upon similar, but more definitive, language in the Montana statutes in 2004.

According to the Court:

the decision whether to provide services to, or seek a guardian for, an at-risk adult . . .rests within the discretion of the director of the county department of human services.

 

The human services director in El Paso County, one of the most conservative counties in the state, said no to Sarah Morgan.

What Next?

There is a good chance that Sarah Morgan will end up homeless or incarcerated in the near future. 

Among incoming female prison inmates in Colorado, 29.8% have moderate or several mental health problems, and another 25.9% have mild mental health problems (pdf page 54). 

About 21% of the homeless in Colorado have a mental illness and 4.4% have a developmental disability (i.e. are mentally retarded), according to a census conducted on August 28, 2006.

But Sarah is on her own, with no support, no guidance, and the mental abilities of a child.

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About the Author

Andrew Oh-Willeke

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