When Anne Henry, the recipient of this year’s Access Press Charlie Smith Award, is asked what she considered the most important issues she had worked on during her career at the Disability Law Center, she placed the “Welsch kids’ cases” at the top of the list. In 1980, Henry was part of a team of lawyers in the class action involving the rights of persons with developmental disabilities in Minnesota’s state institutions. She had primary responsibility for the issues relating to admission and discharge of children. As she discussed these issues with expert witnesses on both sides of the case, Henry realized how important it was to end admission of children to the institutions. The section on Special Procedures Regarding Admission of Children in the Consent Decree approved in September of that year was largely her work. That section stated that an appropriate community placement had to be developed within a year for any child with developmental disabilities admitted to a state institution. It also provided for hearings before the court monitor if a county requested an extension of time to develop a placement. She took responsibility for enforcing that section.
Henry was uniquely qualified to focus on these issues. As a girl she planned to become a teacher. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a major in child psychology and obtained certification as a nursery, preschool and kindergarten teacher. After graduation she taught at a preschool for children of University of Colorado students and then at a University of Colorado laboratory school in Denver where children with disabilities were included in regular classes. Teaching was in her genes. Her mother, Elizabeth, taught English in Melrose after she graduated from the College of St. Benedict. Her father, Edward, taught political science and economics at St. John’s University for many years.
The “kids’ cases” required a thorough analysis of each child’s individual needs. Henry recalled that many of the children had significant medical needs. A plan had to be developed to ensure that those services would be provided. Parents, social workers and sometimes doctors had to be convinced that the child would be safe. Henry was appalled at the intensive aversive behavioral programs implemented for some of the other children. She insisted that positive behavior programs had to be in place when these children were discharged.
Henry said that she had a lot of help, primarily from Cathy Macdonald, the program specialist hired by the Disability Law Center to assist on these cases. But all would agree that Henry’s background and experience and her ability to work through issues with all the people involved was a crucial component of a successful effort to end the practice of admitting children to state institutions. She simply said that it was a joy to work on bringing children back into the community.
Henry had primary responsibility for another issue in the Welsch case that led to her work for decades in the Minnesota Legislature. The consent decree required that legislation be introduced to eliminate the fiscal incentive for counties to place persons with developmental disabilities in state institutions. For years counties had paid significantly more for services for persons in the community than for services in the state hospitals. Henry monitored the legislative proposals required to eliminate that disparity, but soon realized that her clients needed an ongoing voice there. She expanded the scope of her legislative work to address related issues such as waivered services, the Personal Care Attendant (PCA) program, and allowing children with disabilities to be eligible for services without regard to parental income. Getting rid of this “deeming requirement” was, she said, a huge step toward allowing children to live in their home communities. She said that the waiver has allowed a lot of families to get services flexible enough to meet the needs of children so that they could grow up at home.
These two issues exemplify her career. The kids’ cases demonstrate her insistence that individual needs must be identified and met. Her work on the fiscal incentive and related issues displays her mastery of the legal and policy issues presented.
Henry is buoyed by the memory of the legislative action several years ago to capture unspent funds for persons on the waiting list for waivered services for persons with developmental disabilities. She recalled the successful efforts of the mid-nineties to preserve the PCA program and Tax Equity Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA), which provides health care for children with disabilities.
But she asks sobering questions today. “Why is it that this rich nation requires people to impoverish themselves to get medical care?” The “greatest challenge,” she said, “is how to survive in an era of shrinking resources that has an overlay of extreme selfishness.” She challenges us to be vigilant so that we don’t slide back to policies and practices of times past.