Office for People With Developmental Disabilities

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Risks and Safeguards


Guiding Principles

  1. Person Centered Practices: All safeguard planning must be person-centered, where individualized supports offer innovative solutions and least-restrictive settings and practices. A true person-centered support plan must enable the individual to manage identified risks, agree upon appropriate safeguards, and allow them to live their lives in the way they choose.
  2. The Individual Will Be in Charge of their Planning Process: The core of person-centered planning is the individual themselves, supported by family, friends, and others within the community, who form a Circle of Support. The goals of the individual are the foundation of the plan and will be heard throughout the planning process, and in defining tolerable risks, because those will be different for each individual.
  3. Focus on Positive Safeguarding, Not Risk Elimination: The safeguarding plan should be positive and should focus on the gifts and skills of the individual. It is not the goal to eliminate all risk, but to find options that will keep the individual safe as they manage the challenges and associated risks. Flexibility is required and risk must be measured based on its potential harm

The Dignity of Risk

Throughout the person centered planning process, it is necessary to identify and examine potential risks that the individual may be exposed to while pursing his or her life objectives. Everyone has the right to make choices, and with choice comes a degree of risk potential.

Some risks are non-negotiable, such as:

  • Death
  • Exploitation
  • Injury or severe harm
  • Violation of the law

Some are more subjective:

  • Financial problems
  • Isolation or loneliness

Often risk has two sides – like a two-headed coin. On one side is the possibility of loss, injury, or disappointment; but on the other side of the coin, risk can be seen as the possibility for opportunity, success, and personal growth. We can’t ignore that the world is full of risks, and we can never avoid ALL risks. Although taking risks provides people the opportunity for personal growth, we have choice in the degree of risk to which we expose ourselves.

Some common risks that people expose themselves to everyday include:

  • Social Risks: Being shunned by a community group or rejected by someone within the community.
  • Personal Risks: Consequences when choosing not to follow recommended supports or services, failure to take care of one’s physical wellbeing, or health care needs.
  • Financial Risks: The potential of losing one’s home, money, family, friends, jobs, etc.
  • Relationship Risks: The possibility of not being liked, of heartbreak, or feelings of loneliness.
  • Employment Risks: Failure to find work, difficulty getting to the work site, failure to perform the job functions appropriately, or of being fired from a job.
  • Educational Risks: Failing a class or failing to get the degree you are seeking.

Although there is no such thing as a risk free life, everyone involved in supporting individuals we serve must accept some level of responsibility for helping to mitigate potential risks.

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are often more vulnerable to risk. Some of these vulnerabilities may be very real while some are projected or anticipated based on assumptions and/or fears. Whether real or perceived, all efforts must be made throughout the person centered planning process to identify potential risks and vulnerabilities (including behavioral and health considerations) and to work with individuals to develop meaningful, valid, and appropriate safeguards. The reverse means overprotection, which prevents individuals we support from living the life they consider to be meaningful and productive.

Recommended areas to be considered for safeguard planning include the extent by which an individual can:

  • Advocate for themselves;
  • Attend to their daily activities;
  • Manage their personal health and wellness;
  • Manage their potential mental health considerations;
  • Identify and use personal coping strategies for interfering behavior challenges; or
  • Take action to support personal safety in their home and community environments.

Informed choice and decision making means taking responsibility and knowing consequences from the risk in front of you. For people who have not had a rich experiential base in decisions and choice making, consequences and responsibilities represent important elements for exploration to each choice made. The term informed choice refers to a person’s knowledge of the consequence and responsibility of the decisions he/she is about to make. Therefore, people making choices need to understand more fully their responsibilities, and the possible consequences when making choices.

Through meaningful conversations with the person in a planning process, the review of these areas where safeguards may be needed are not meant to be a deterrent to an individualized plan of support, but an opportunity to identify approaches to support the person in a way that will mitigate or reduce the potential risks. Through thoughtful approaches to real life concerns, supports from both natural and paid support givers can be identified to help the person achieve the outcomes that are most important to them.