Home > Uncategorized > Father and sister will finally be allowed contact with disabled woman as 3-year DDS family-separation order is eased

Father and sister will finally be allowed contact with disabled woman as 3-year DDS family-separation order is eased

After three years, a state employed guardian is at least partially lifting a ban on family contact with a developmentally disabled woman, and is allowing the woman’s father and sister to visit her.

In a November 6 email to Ashley Barr, the disabled woman’s sister, Dorothy Wallace stated that she was granting permission to Ashley and to David Barr, the woman’s father, to visit the 30-year-old woman for the first time since November 2015. The woman has been diagnosed with an intellectual disability and mental illness.

Wallace has never clearly explained the reason for her family separation policy, which has nevertheless been upheld by the Department of Developmental Services. DDS pays Wallace to serve as a guardian to the woman and to other departmental clients.

Chelsea, David, and Ashley Barr

David and Ashley Barr. They have been prohibited, for unclear reasons, from contact with their developmentally disabled family member for the past three years.

In her email, Wallace wrote that she would now allow visits because the woman’s mother, Nancy Barr, has been sentenced in a criminal case involving the sexual assault of the disabled woman by Nancy Barr’s boyfriend, John Leone. Nancy and David Barr have been divorced since 2003.

Nancy Barr pled guilty on November 6 to sexual assault charges and was sentenced to two years in prison. Leone pled guilty to similar charges in May and is serving a three to five-year prison term. The sentencing of both Leone and Nancy Barr had repeatedly been delayed during the past year.

During the period of the assaults, the woman had been under the care of her mother and had been living in her mother’s home. David Barr said that Nancy has also been diagnosed with mental illness.

Neither David nor Ashley, nor any other members of the family were involved in the abuse of the disabled woman or were ever charged in the case.

Yet, for the past three years, Wallace prohibited all members of the family other than an aunt from having any contact with the woman, and had not even informed the family as to where she has been living. We are withholding the woman’s name because she was a victim of sexual assault.

Ashley, whose first visit with her sister following the lifting of the ban was today at a DDS area office, said her sister appeared alert and happy to see her and her father. Regular weekend visits will be scheduled for the foreseeable future at a group residence in Haverhill in which her sister is now living.

Ashley also said she intends to apply in court to become her sister’s guardian and that David is supporting her in that.

Ashley told COFAR that in the months prior to the November 2015 ban on visitation, her sister appeared drugged when they were allowed to visit her, and, in one instance, did not appear to have been bathed.

COFAR has repeatedly asked Wallace and DDS for an explanation for the family contact ban specifically on David and Ashley. In an email to both Wallace and DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder on November 9, I also asked what the sentencing of Nancy Bar, in particular, had to do with the family separation policy.

David and Ashley had been among the most involved family members in the woman’s life and care, and have led the family’s effort to resume contact with the woman. To date, neither Wallace nor Ryder have responded to our queries about the case.

In her November 6 email, Wallace implied that she is stepping down as the woman’s guardian, stating that, “With the completion of the sentencing (of Nancy Barr), I have fulfilled my obligation to (the disabled woman) and as promised to Ashley and Mr. Barr they can now coordinate visits with (the woman).”

We have never seen another case in which such a complete and lengthy prohibition on contact was imposed on family members who were not charged or, as far as we know, accused of any serious misconduct with regard to a disabled individual. As we’ve said before, we think this ban has been enforced in violation of DDS regulations, which state that people in the Department’s care have the right …“to be visited and to visit others under circumstances that are conducive to friendships and relationships…”

We think there is a fairly universal consensus that family separation in social services should be imposed only as a last resort, and then should be used sparingly and for as short a time as possible. If family separation is imposed, authorities should be transparent about it and communicate as much information as possible to those family members affected. In our view, none of those criteria were met in this case.

During the past three years, different reasons have been given to the Barr family for the separation policy:

  • In an August 2015 hearing in probate court, Wallace testified, according to the hearing transcript, that she was imposing restrictions on contact between the woman and her father and sister because David and Ashley became overly emotional when they had been allowed to visit her.
  • Wallace contended that those visits, which took place in hospital settings after the arrests of John Leone and Nancy Barr on the assault charges, caused the woman to exhibit psychotic symptoms afterwards.
  • Last February, Ashley was told by DDS General Counsel Marianne Meacham that there was concern on someone’s part that a visit from David and Ashley would somehow make the woman “lose focus” in preparing to testify in the trial of Leone and Nancy Barr. Meacham told Ashley that visits would be permitted once the trial, which was originally scheduled to be held in April, was over.
  •  Despite Attorney Meacham’s contention that the ban on family contact was related to the then ongoing criminal case, a spokesperson for the D.A.’s office told COFAR in February that the D.A. was not responsible for the ban, and that it had been ordered by Wallace.
  • And despite the assurances given to Ashley, visits with her sister were not scheduled even after Leone pled guilty to sexual assault last May. David and Ashley were now told they would not be allowed any contact with the woman until Nancy Barr was sentenced in the case. That sentencing occurred only last week.

DDS officials appeared to be biased against the family

As COFAR reported, Wallace and other DDS officials made a number of statements about Ashley and David during the August 2015 probate court hearing that appeared to indicate a bias against them.

Many of the statements appeared to be hearsay or to lack  foundation, including Wallace’s statement that hospital clinicians told her the woman exhibited psychotic symptoms after visits from David and Ashley. At the time of her testimony, Wallace had been appointed as the woman’s temporary guardian.

The court hearing concerned a request by David and Ashley that they resume regular contact with the woman and that David be appointed as her permanent guardian. The judge, however, ruled instead in favor of the appointment of Wallace, the candidate recommended by DDS, as the woman’s permanent guardian. David Barr had tried without success to gain guardianship of the woman after his divorce from Nancy Barr in 2003.

Despite the judge’s ruling in 2015, the court does not appear ever to have issued an order banning any members of the family from having contact with the woman.

Ashley acknowledged she and her father did become emotional during visits with her sister prior to the complete visitation ban in November 2015 because she appeared upset at being kept isolated from them and often appeared to be over-medicated.

“For several visits we did cry in front of (her sister), I mean how could we not?” Ashley said in an interview in 2016. “She was alone, scared, by herself, and just went through a horrific thing for about two years. So yes, my father and I did cry, and I was an emotional mess for a very long time.  Watching my sister all drugged up, she could barely talk, and given the state she was in, it was very hard to keep it in. I walked out of the room most of the time so my sister wouldn’t see me.”

In one of the last instances in which they were allowed to visit the woman, Ashley said it appeared she had not been bathed.  Ashley said she personally gave her a shower at the hospital. Her hair was so dirty and matted, Ashley said, that she had to use an entire bottle of shampoo and conditioner to untangle it.

Little information and little help from legislators

After the woman told a family friend about the alleged abuse in 2014, the friend reported the matter to police, and the woman was immediately removed from her mother’s care. She was apparently placed in a shared living arrangement, but that location was not disclosed at the time to any other members of the family.

In the months that followed, the family was only sporadically informed about their family member’s whereabouts.  Ashley and her father said that virtually no information was provided to them for the first month after her removal. They were then allowed to visit her only a handful of times, either at a DDS area office or in Massachusetts hospitals to which she was admitted, reportedly after psychotic episodes.

David and Ashley said they tried for months after the ban on further contact was imposed to get answers from DDS and from Wallace, and got little or no response from them. They also contacted their local legislators and got little help, and even went to the media, but were unable to get any news outlets to report their story.

Ashley said the ban on contact was so complete that when she found out in May 2016 that she was pregnant, Wallace denied her request that her sister be allowed to come to the baby shower. She said Wallace also told her that her sister would not be informed that she was pregnant.

One aunt allowed visits, another blocked

For unknown reasons, the only family member who has been allowed to visit the woman has been a maternal aunt who apparently agreed not to reveal the woman’s location to Ashley or David. The aunt told COFAR, however, that she thought David and Ashley should be allowed to visit the woman.

In the meantime, another aunt of the woman’s as well as a family friend were blocked from visiting her.

In an interview with COFAR in August of this year, Susan Zeytoonian, a paternal aunt of Ashley’s, said she had accompanied Ashley to visit the woman shortly before Wallace banned all family contact. Zeytoonian said that prior to the removal of the woman from her mother’s care, the woman had frequently spent time at her house.

According to Zeytoonian, the woman was happy to see them during their 2015 visit and “came runnng down the hall.” She said she had not seen her niece since that visit.

The family friend who initially reported the alleged sexual abuse of the woman to police had initially been allowed to visit her. However, the friend told COFAR that when she tried to visit the woman at Tewksbury State Hospital in April 2016 on her 28th birthday, she was told that she was no longer there.

The friend said she was also told by a staff member at the hospital that she too had been placed on a no-visitor list.  She said she was not given a reason for that prohibition.

Disability Law Center tried to find a solution in the case

In early 2017,the Boston-based Disability Law Center temporarily intervened in the case to ask a state-appointed attorney who is representing the woman, to support family visits if the woman wished that. However, that effort was not successful.

The attorney, Melissa Coury Cote, told COFAR in March 2017 that she would not support court permission for visits to the woman by David or Ashley Barr, despite the DLC’s request. Cote provided no reason for opposing family visits other than to say that the woman had not specifically asked her to allow visits from her father and sister.

However, Ashley Barr said at the time that her sister had recently called her father on two occasions and said she missed her family and wanted to see them. The calls were apparently unauthorized. Ashley said she and her father didn’t know whose phone the woman used to contact them.

While we are glad that a step toward reuniting the family has finally been taken by Wallace and DDS, we remained concerned that the Department and its professional guardians do not appear to operate in accordance with the Department’s own regulations on the rights of its clients and their families.

This case, moreover, illustrates the need to make reforms to the DDS-probate court system that ensure that clients and families are treated fairly and their rights and wishes are respected. Among the reforms we have proposed are the following:

  • Passage of legislation requiring probate court judges to presume that family members are suitable guardians of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • The provision of free legal assistance to family members and guardians who been barred from contact with their loved ones in the DDS system or who have otherwise faced retaliation from the Department or from providers.
  • The provision of free legal assistance to family members whose guardianships are challenged by DDS.
  • A policy statement by DDS that the Department will make every effort to comply with the federal Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, and, in particular, the statement in the law that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families are “the primary decision makers.”
  • Increased financial oversight of the corporate provider system and the DDS/probate guardianship system.

Without reforms such as these, we are afraid cases such as this one will happen again and again.

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  1. janet marcus
    November 14, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    There is 1 clear reason – $

  2. Gail. Giles(
    November 19, 2018 at 3:49 am

    DDS should not be involved in recommending guardians. DDS is not always objective in their decisions and may not always have the best interest of the resident in mind.

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