Champaign County residents interested in volunteering as legal guardians for adults no longer able to make their own decisions have become a highly sought-after commodity for one local nonprofit organization.
Volunteers for Adult Life Enhancement (V.A.L.E.) – the county’s lone volunteer guardianship program – currently provides adult guardianship services to 21 clients or wards, ranging in age from 23 to 90, who have been deemed incompetent by the probate court due to such factors as physical or developmental disabilities, mental illnesses or cognitive disorders
Since Jan. 1, V.A.L.E. Director Lee Hyland has received over a dozen referrals for potential clients from various agencies throughout the county.
“I’ve not turned down anyone coming into our program because they all need help, but I really need some volunteers because we are short on available guardians,” Hyland said. “I currently have nine clients who are waiting to be matched up with a guardian.”
Recruiting individuals willing to take on the role of a volunteer guardian is a challenging effort made even more difficult, Hyland said, due to recent changes in guardianship laws, which now require prospective guardians, who must be 18 years of age or older, to complete a six-hour guardian fundamentals course provided by the Supreme Court of Ohio. The course is offered locally at the Clark County Probate Court or can be taken online.
“We used to do all of our training in-house prior to this ruling,” Hyland said. “Also, if you became a guardian prior to the ruling, you must complete the training course within a certain window of time.
“I’ve lost some volunteers because of this new requirement, but that’s OK. People who don’t get paid don’t want to do that extra stuff, so I completely understand why some have decided to leave the program,” she added.
Duties of a volunteer
After passing a background check and completing the state-required training class, prospective guardians are matched with potential clients, and V.A.L.E. staff assist with the paperwork required to be granted guardianship through the court system.
“There is no cost to any of our guardians at all, but they don’t get paid for anything,” Hyland said. “I just ask that our volunteers understand it’s a lifetime commitment to these people. They need a person who is solid and is going to remain in their life.”
As of March 3, V.A.L.E. has 19 volunteer guardians. Some have day jobs and some are retired.
“I have some guardians who have more than one ward, but I don’t think anybody needs more than three or four wards to look over,” Hyland said.
While there are three types of guardianship awarded through the court – person only, estate only, and person and estate –V.A.L.E. provides person-only guardianship.
“The Champaign County Probate Court is the ultimate guardian in any case,” Hyland said.
The primary responsibility of a legal guardian, according to V.A.L.E. literature, is to make sure the client’s personal and medical needs are fully met through the court system and a family physician.
“All of my guardians take care of their ward as if they are part of their family,” Hyland said. “They take care of their doctor appointments, make sure they are in a safe place, and make sure they are as healthy as can be.”
Although the state requires a guardian to see a ward only twice a year, V.A.L.E. requires more frequent visits.
“We ask that they go see or call their ward at least once a month, and we require each guardian to send over a monthly report so that there is information in the client’s file,” Hyland said.
Individuals interested in becoming a guardian through V.A.L.E., which has an office in downtown Urbana at 1 Monument Square (Suite 204), can contact Hyland for more information at 937-653-4865.
“We are also looking for another attorney to help us if anyone is interested,” Hyland said.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.