Vainieri Huttle Bill to Create Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Advances

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle creating an ombudsman to serve as an advocate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities was approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee on Monday.

"Navigating state and federal laws and bureaucracy can be overwhelming for anyone," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "For those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it can be downright frustrating, which can deter some individuals and families from accessing much-needed services that may be available to help them. This is counterproductive and in no one's best interest. By creating an ombudsman to help guide them through the state and federal labyrinth of services we can help individuals become more self-sufficient, thriving members of the community."

The bill (A-3824) would establish the independent Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and their Families in, but not of, the Department of the Treasury.

Under the provisions of the bill, the Governor would appoint the ombudsman, who is to be qualified by training and experience to perform the duties of the office, and be recognized as someone with judgment, integrity, and objectivity who is skilled in communication, conflict resolution, and professionalism. 

The ombudsman would organize and direct the work of the office with duties that would include, but not be limited to, the following: 

1) serving as a source of information for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families and interested members of the public, to help them better understand state and federal laws and regulations governing individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities; 

2) providing, in coordination with the State Council on Developmental Disabilities: information and support to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families in navigating and understanding the process for obtaining services and support from the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and the Division of Children's System of Care (CSOC), including information and support for those who transition from receiving services and supports; and assistance in obtaining appropriate, services, support, and opportunities from CSOC or DDD that focus on personal goals and making those goals become a reality; 

3) providing information, communication strategies and available options when it comes to resolving disagreements with CSOC, DDD, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or the Department of Human Services (DHS) regarding the evaluation, placement, or provision of services and supports; and to educate individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families; 

4) working neutrally and objectively to help ensure that a fair process is followed in the resolution of disputes concerning the provision of supports and services to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities receiving services from CSOC or DDD; 

5) identifying patterns of complaints regarding the rights and services of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and recommending strategies for improvements; and 

6) assisting CSOC and DDD in creating public information programs designed to acquaint and educate individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, their families, and the public about the duties of the ombudsman.

Communications received in the course of the ombudsman's duties are to be kept confidential, except when disclosure is necessary to enable the ombudsman to perform the duties of the office and consent for disclosure is obtained.

The bill also requires the ombudsman to issue a written report annually to the Commissioner of Human Services and the Commissioner of Children and Families, which would include a summary of the services the ombudsman provided during the year and any specific recommendations the ombudsman deems appropriate and necessary to provide services and support to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The report would also be issued to the Governor and the Legislature.