Human Rights in Social Services

Here in the United States, people routinely speak about their rights. Fundamental rights of Americans are described in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the Constitution. In a broad sense, our rights can be classified as human, legal and civil, and laws at all levels of government help to ensure that these rights apply equally to all.

So how does a large social service agency such as CHD preserve individual human rights for the people it serves who are vulnerable and unable to voice their own concerns? How are human rights ensured for those who may not possess the intellectual capacity or mental health to understand what rights they have, and that a mechanism is in place for their voice to be heard? At CHD, it comes in the form of an office on Human Rights with dedicated staff.

“CHD works to ensure that people we support are able to realize their rights as independent human beings, irrespective of physical or intellectual disability, mental health, gender, race, creed, or any other factor,” said Jim Goodwin, President and CEO of CHD. “One way we do this is through our Office of Human Rights, which takes an open and transparent approach to ensuring the human rights of people CHD supports. This approach is in effect every day, and it seems especially appropriate to talk about it during Black History Month, when, as a community, we reflect on the importance of treating everyone equally and respectfully.”

Kenneth A. Morey Jr., Attorney at Law, is CHD’s Human Rights Coordinator. Morey applies his training and professional experience to provide support for the agency’s volunteer Human Rights Committee, and also oversees and supports the work of CHD’s Human Rights Officers.

CHD’s Human Rights Committee is an impartial review board with a completely unbiased motive to ensure for the human rights of persons supported by CHD. The Committee is comprised entirely of volunteers who have no monetary or employment interest in CHD. “Members of the Human Rights Committee are there to protect those who may not have the intellectual or mental capacity to protect themselves,” said Morey. “They work to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our care have every opportunity to voice their concerns and have them acted upon.”

The Human Rights Committee can serve in a variety of roles, including adviser, advocate, investigator and change agent. The seven-member Committee includes consumers, allied health professionals, a nurse and two attorneys. “Some members are fairly new to the position, while others have served on the Committee for decades,” Morey said. “We can always use a few more people to volunteer on the Human Rights Committee.” Ideal candidates to volunteer include current consumers, family members or someone with an interest or experience in the mental health field. Prospective candidates can reach out to Morey at kmorey@chd.org.

“CHD also has Human Rights Officers throughout the organization,” said Morey. “These Officers are CHD employees who take on additional responsibility in helping to educate staff about human rights and create dialog that ensures open communication with the clients they support.”

One of Morey’s professional responsibilities is training Human Rights Officers who work in CHD’s residential settings. Human Rights Officers in turn train their staff and CHD clients at house meetings, so clients understand their human rights and staff understand their responsibilities in ensuring those rights.

In an organization serving 25,000 clients and employing a staff of 1,600, a dedicated Human Rights Coordinator is a valuable resource. “When a concern is logged, we have a process that ensures it is addressed,” said Morey. “That’s a good thing. We don’t ever want to quiet anyone’s voice. We want to ensure that basic human dignity is something everyone can expect and experience, every day, in every program.”

CHD mandates training on the broad topic of Client Rights for all employees, including those whose jobs are not directly involved in supporting clients. “I took the Client Rights training in early January,” said Kimberley A. Lee, VP of Advancement for CHD. “It’s an online program that I completed in about an hour. It was very informative, and it motivated me to learn more about the Office of Human Rights within CHD. As an organization, we must embrace the different ways human beings look, speak, feel, and act, in order to serve them well and respect their human rights. I think that’s important given the diversity of our workforce, which reflects the diversity of those we serve.”

Morey says the job of Human Rights Coordinator seems like it was designed for him. “I saw the job advertised last year and I said, that is exactly what I want to do professionally,” he explained. “I enjoy the rational aspect of my work, but there is also an emotional connection to the position. My older sister has mental health issues and has been committed frequently. She hasn’t always had a huge voice in the places she’s been. I saw this job as a way for me to help as many people as I can.”

According to Morey, many people enter the field of human rights because of experiences with their family or someone they know. “You can tell they really care,” he says. “You see it in their eyes and hear it in their words. There’s a lot more motivation when you approach the position with a personal perspective. I, for example, have a sister with emotional health concerns. I treat every individual in our programs with the dignity and respect that I would want my sister to receive. Giving voice to individuals is a commitment that’s not just important, it’s right. Actually, it’s a right.”

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