As North Carolina’s Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agency, Disability Rights NC receives grant funding from the federal government to protect people with disabilities from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Our Investigations and Monitoring team monitors conditions in a wide range of facilities and settings that serve people with disabilities. When necessary, the team launches investigations to uncover and address abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
When Congress created the P&A system, it gave every P&A broad authority to access facilities and settings that provide services, care, and treatment to people with disabilities. Those locations include, but are not limited to, schools, group homes, day programs, adult care homes, nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, and residential treatment facilities. Our access authority applies to both state-run and privately owned settings.
When we visit a facility to monitor conditions, we have three primary goals:
- Ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are upheld. We talk to the residents/students/patients about their concerns and experiences, and we educate them about the power of self-advocacy. When necessary and appropriate, we work to resolve violations of rights—such as unnecessary, inappropriate and illegal use of restraint and seclusion. We resolve such issues by alerting staff or administrators to the problem, educating them about individuals’ rights under federal and state laws, and promoting self-advocacy skills.
- Ensure that the environment is safe. We look for environmental hazards as well as practices that can be harmful, such as unsafe staffing levels. We also check to see that the setting is in compliance with laws and regulations.
- Ensure that people with disabilities have opportunities to participate in activities important to them. We want to make sure they can choose what they do, and that they are not forced to engage in activities for the convenience of the facility staff. (For example, some group homes violate residents’ rights by requiring all of them to go to the same sheltered workshop or day program, regardless of each resident’s needs and interests.)
When we are monitoring, our role is to advocate on behalf of the individuals with disabilities in the facility/setting. We may conduct private face-to-face interviews with the individuals, even if they are minors or have guardians, as well as with staff members. In addition, we have authority to review the facility’s records when appropriate. We inform facility/setting managers of any dangers or rights violations that we find. If necessary, we involve state regulators and other authorities, such as law enforcement and child/adult protective services.
When we receive a complaint or find evidence of serious abuse or neglect, we may launch an investigation.
Investigations are distinct from advocacy or monitoring. We do not have a client during an investigation. Rather, we are impartial, and our goal is to gather the facts surrounding an alleged incident. We review records and may interview individuals to determine whether an allegation of abuse or neglect is substantiated.
Investigations require a significant allocation of time and resources. For this reason, we investigate situations that may create systemic change and improve the lives of large groups of people with disabilities.
At the end of an investigation, we write a report, which we share with facility/setting managers and which we may release to the public. If necessary, we involve state regulators and other authorities, such as law enforcement and child/adult protective services.
If you have a concern about possible abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a person with a disability, you may contact us. You do not have to give your name, but if you do, we are required by federal law to keep your identity confidential.