A decades-old photo of Santa Claus and a child in winter clothing sits on the dresser in a holiday-bedecked bedroom.
That little girl, who was developmentally disabled and had cerebral palsy, lived with her parents in Massachusetts.
Now, at 62, with no family left to see to her needs, Kathy lives in a Space Coast group home as a legal ward of the state’s Statewide Public Guardianship Office. At the request of her guardian and because of privacy concerns, FLORIDA TODAY agreed not to publish her last name.
Along with 82 other adults in Brevard who’ve been declared incapacitated, all aspects of Kathy’s care falls to Aging Solutions, a nonprofit appointed by the state as the Office of the Public Guardian here and in three other counties.
The often-sad stories of these wards are highlighted annually over the holidays through Aging Solutions’ “Elves for Elders” campaign, which provides basic gifts for the organization’s charges.
But how do these Floridians, most older than 60, land in guardianship in the first place? And how are their needs met the rest of the year?
Wards, many cognitively and physically impaired, wind up under state guardianship for diverse reasons. Some were exploited financially by caretakers or family. Some living in dangerous, unhealthy situations were referred by the Department of Children and Families; others by hospitals or neighbors. Those with sufficient assets often are put in a private guardian’s care. Those who are indigent can fall under the state’s protection.
All share a bond: They no longer can care for themselves and have no family or friends to step up and take the lead. For example, Kathy’s parents and brother are deceased, and though she has one aunt in Brevard County, the older woman is unable to look after her niece.
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Wards of the State Depend on Their Guardian Angels