Monthly case histories about the real guardianship experience
Guardianship Spotlight:
Barbara Ellis, BSN, CCM, NCG
How I Got Involved in Guardianship

Barbara Ellis, Family Guardian
"The best we can do for your sister is to keep her out of the hospital ten months of the year." This was the psychiatrist's prognosis at a mental health facility many years ago. These devastating words had a profound impact on me, as I knew that if there was no normalcy in her life, there would be none in mine. These words became my motivation to finding a way to stabilize her schizophrenia diagnosis. This was no easy task as there were no effective medications at the time to accomplish this goal, and many unknown factors related to brain function, diet, nutrients, and the avoidance of neuro excitotoxins were yet to be identified.

When I did officially become my sister's legal guardian years later, there were no limited guardianship options. She did, however, understand that a court had given me the legal responsibility for making the major decisions in her life and that I was now going to be involved in every aspect of it. Trust and my sister's ability to focus were key to making our relationship work. Both took years of practice. Eventually, it became clear to me that these were among the stages I identified to making better decisions with better outcomes.
Tackling A Daunting Responsibility
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.
What hope can you give to other family guardians facing this overwhelming responsibility?

You have it within yourself to make a positive impact in the life of your family member now under guardianship. It will require that you gradually educate yourself about the legal and case management aspects of guardianship.  You do not have to do this alone. Your attorney, the professional guardianship network, and other family guardians are here to assist you. Although some states do not have a mandatory family guardian education class, Florida does have this requirement.
We hope these articles are informative for you. Please keep in mind  that some of the views expressed are not necessarily the opinions or  philosophies of other FSGA members. We recommend hiring a guardian  that is a good fit for you.
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