Safe Choices 15 – St. Francis has new guardian, new wife

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by Chris Braithwaite
copyright the Chronicle August 12, 2009
After struggling for years to gain some measure of control over his own life, George St. Francis is out of the Safe Choices program.  He is also out from under the control of the Office of the Public Guardian, which put him in Safe Choices and kept him there.  He has a private guardian instead, a woman who has worked quietly for years to release young men from Safe Choices.
And, to the consternation of some concerned with his care, Mr. St. Francis is a married man.
On August 3, the day she was appointed his guardian, Janet Reed approved Mr. St. Francis’s application for a license to marry Kathy McCammon, and the two were married at the Reed farm in Craftsbury.  Francis Whitcomb, a justice of the peace from Albany, performed the ceremony before a group of about a dozen friends and supporters.
Mr. St. Francis still does not enjoy the full rights of an adult citizen, though he is in his thirties.
He lost those rights at 18, the age most people acquire them, when he was “adjudicated to be mentally retarded” in Chittenden Family Court in 1996.
That put him under the control of a state-appointed guardian, who in turn enrolled him in the Safe Choices Program, which is designed to care for and control mentally disabled men who are considered sexually dangerous.
Most of his time in Safe Choices was spent at Lowell House, an isolated farmhouse he shared with Safe Choices staff and a handful of other “consumers” of the program.
Mr. St. Francis’ efforts to get out of Safe Choices and out from under the control of his state guardian date back to 2003.  They consistently met with failure until he was able to find a lawyer of his own choosing who supported him in court.
But in ending the state guardianship last month in Orleans Family Court, Judge Robert Bent did not leave Mr. St. Francis or his new guardian, Ms. Reed, free from the oversight of mental health professionals.
Judge Bent ordered Mr. St. Francis to continue to receive developmental services, “which may include 24-hour supervision,” as determined appropriate by a “designated agency” that is not named in the order.
If Ms. Reed seeks to deviate from the agency’s treatment plan, and can’t reach agreement with the agency, the judge wrote, she “must seek prior Court approval for such deviation.”
That agency, which she did not name, has already told her that permitting Mr. St. Francis to marry Ms. McCammon constitutes a violation of Judge Bent’s order, Ms. Reed said in an interview Tuesday.
She said the agency suspended Mr. St. Francis’ “Medicaid waiver,” which covered developmental services costing about $200,000 a year, but then agreed to delay that suspension while the two sides searched for a solution.
Since she met him exactly a year ago, Ms. Reed said, Mr. St. Francis has consistently asked her for two things:  that she become his guardian, and that he be permitted to marry Ms. McCammon.
“ ‘I have a life and I want to get it back, they took my life away,’ was his plea to me,” Ms. Reed said.
Whether that marriage comes as a happy ending to a tale of starcrossed lovers, or the culmination of a caregiver’s abuse of a vulnerable adult that began in 2003, depends on which side of the argument you talk to.
Ms. McCammon operated Nightingale Respite Services for developmentally disabled adults at her farm in Wolcott when Mr. St. Francis was sent there in the summer of 2003.
That fall, an investigator for Adult Protective Services looked into an allegation that the two had sexual intercourse.  He concluded that “there is insufficient evidence to susbstantiate in this case.”
Mr. St. Francis was moved to Lowell House, and Ms. McCammon was blacklisted as a care provider.
The same allegation from 2003 was brought into criminal court three years later by the office of the Vermont Attorney General, who charged Ms. McCammon with abuse of a vulnerable adult.
Her attorney, Susan Davis, argued that the charge should be dismissed for a number of reasons, including “in the interests of justice.”
The truth of the matter, she said, is “that the purported victim has fallen in love with the Defendant…”
“While the State asserts it is acting in his best interest, the purported victim is essentially a prisoner of a system which does not recognize his right to love whomever he chooses,” Ms. Davis said.
The Attorney General dismissed the charges in February 2006, without explanation.
While she acknowledged her romantic attachment to Mr. St. Francis in an interview last year, Ms. McCammon denied that she’d ever had sex with him.
Mr. St. Francis has a constitutional right to marry the person he chooses, Ms. Reed said in a recent interview, and that is what she has permitted him to do.
Referring to a pamphlet given to her by the Probate Court, which took the case over from Judge Bent after the state guardianship ended, Ms. Reed said “I have been following the guidelines of the flyer:  be respectful, help him achieve his hopes and dreams, let him become more independent.”
Though she doesn’t name the agency that took over Mr. St. Francis’ therapy from Safe Choices, Ms. Reed said she had suggested it to the court.
“I thought it would be different,” she said, “but what we saw was exactly what was done in Safe Choices.”
The agency placed Mr. St. Francis with a home care provider in Northfield.  After they were married, however, Mr. St. Francis moved into Ms. McCammon’s home in Wolcott.
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