A decision-making plan developed which I divided into four categories:
- what the person under guardianship is capable of doing
- what we can accomplish together
- what this person prefers you do as the guardian
- what the guardian is only capable of doing
Working with a client with intermittent incapacity, these categories will overlap with the degree and frequency of incapacity and return to a more normal decision-making pattern when stability is restored. This shared responsibility model would become the foundation of my sister's guardianship and was essential because she was employed and lived in her own apartment. We utilized the principles of autonomy, self-determination, person-centered planning, and person-first language long before I became acquainted with these terms through the guardianship network.
In order to acquire knowledge about the legal system and how the guardianship process worked, I joined the National Guardianship Association, the Florida State Guardianship Association and the Palm Beach Guardianship Association. Educating myself on a professional level helped introduce me to a vast networking community that assisted me in my daunting responsibility. I often told my fellow guardians that I was a Registered Nurse, Certified Case Manager, and a National Certified Guardian, but I only had one client, my sister.
As family guardians, our strength lies in the lifetime of memories and intimate contact that is unique to us. We are focused on one person for the duration of our guardianship and can concentrate on the laws and case management aspects specific to our family member. For family guardians, responsibility and accountability may have begun long before the legal determination of incapacity. We most likely have been intervening for many years in every aspect of their lives prior to official appointment.
For my sister and me, guardianship was neither a restriction nor an intrusion designed to remove her decision-making abilities. It was the difference between stability and instability, independence versus living in a more sheltered environment, and employment versus the poverty level of SSI. This legal commitment removed the chaos from my sister's life, unburdened her from responsibilities she did not have the capacity to accept, and gave her freedoms and a quality of life that she did not previously enjoy.