While the Baker administration appears to be moving ahead with a policy of closing all remaining sheltered workshops for developmentally disabled persons in Massachusetts, records show that relatively few people so far have been transferred from the workshops to the “integrated employment settings” that are supposed to replace them.
Confirming our concerns, the data from the Department of Developmental Services show that most of those people have been transferred to community-based day programs funded by DDS or MassHealth.
This has financially benefited corporate DDS providers that run the day programs and that have been among the most vocal proponents of shutting down the sheltered workshops. In what we consider to be an example of the inappropriate influence of private interests in DDS policy, two of those provider organizations actually helped draft a key DDS document that called for the workshop closures.
According to DDS records, the number of participants in sheltered workshops dropped by 1,166 between August 2014 and August 2015 — a 61 percent reduction from the 1,913 people who had been in those programs. The number of sheltered workshop providers dropped from 39 to 14.
In that same period, the number of developmentally disabled persons in corporate-run, community-based day programs increased by 1,116, or 27 percent.
In contrast to the increase in day program use, the number of developmentally disabled people in “integrated employment” settings increased from August 2014 to 2015 by only 337, or about 6 percent. DDS said it had no records on the number of integrated workplaces that exist in Massachusetts.
Community-based day programs actually cost considerably more to run than do sheltered workshops, according to an expert in the field.
A DDS document in November 2013, titled “Blueprint for Success,” stated that it was the department’s goal to close sheltered workshops to new participants as of January 2014 and to close all remaining workshops as of June 30, 2015. The closure of all of the workshops has not yet occurred, but it appears to be likely to happen despite protective language placed in the state budget for the workshops.
The title page of the Blueprint states that the document was prepared by DDS and by the Massachusetts Association for Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) and the Arc of Massachusetts. Both the ADDP and the Arc are largely supported by DDS-funded providers, which have benefited from higher DDS funding for the day programs to which most of the former sheltered workshop participants have been transferred.
The Blueprint called for a total of $26.7 million in state funding over a four-year period for the transition from sheltered workshops to mainstream work settings. But the document did not offer specifics as to how those mainstream jobs would be found.
A 2014 Blueprint Progress Report, drafted by DDS and the ADDP, stated that $3 million allotted in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the transition from the sheltered workshops fell short of $5.5 million that DDS and the corporate providers had requested. Nevertheless, the report stated that 31 of 39 provider agencies would receive funding to transfer participants out of the workshops.
It now appears most of the funding has gone toward community-based day programs. The expert we talked to suggested that it would have been more effective had the funding been earmarked for subsidies for employers for hiring developmentally disabled workers.
Sheltered workshops provide developmentally disabled persons with a range of assembly jobs and other types of work, usually for a small wage. But the programs have become targets of a political ideology that holds that any type of congregate care setting is institutional in nature and therefore bad for those involved. Sheltered workshops allegedly “segregate” developmentally disabled people from their peers in the wider community or in the mainstream workforce.
“Integrated individual employment” is defined by DDS in a 2010 policy directive as “taking place in a workplace in the community where the majority of individuals do not have disabilities.” In addition, the policy directive states that the “optimal employment status is earning the prevailing wage.”
Many families of the sheltered workshop participants have countered that those programs are fully integrated into the surrounding communities and provide the participants with meaningful activities and valuable skills. Those families have also raised concerns that there are relatively few integrated or mainstream workforce jobs available for people with developmental disabilities; and that absent a sufficient number of such jobs, former sheltered workshop participants are likely to be transferred permanently to community-based day programs that do not offer the same activities or skills as the workshops did.
The contrast between the percentages of people who have been transferred to day programs and those placed in integrated employment is not alluded to in a September 2015 progress report submitted by DDS to the Legislature’s House and Senate Ways and Means Committees and to the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee. The data noted above on the numbers of people in sheltered workshops and other programs in 2014 and 2015 can be found in tables in the report; but there was no analysis in the report of the data and no conclusions drawn based on that data.
In that five-page report, DDS Commissioner Elin Howe stated that DDS was offering training and consultation services to day program providers on the “delivery of quality, inclusive community based services…” Howe also said DDS was working “to assure that all individuals have access to and integration in the community…”
But Howe did not explain in the report how or when that access to integration in the community would be achieved by DDS. Howe’s report also provided no data or information on the types of services offered in community by day program providers or how successful those programs might have been.
The DDS’s 2010 policy directive similarly did not contain a plan for placing former sheltered workshop participants in mainstream jobs; but the policy directive did take a strong ideological stance against the workshops, going as far as to state that mainstream employment had been shown to be “a viable option… even for those individuals with the most significant level of disability…” No evidence or source was cited for that statement.
The disappearance of sheltered workshops appears to be yet another example of the erosion of cost-effective care for the developmentally disabled due to the influence of corporate interests that stand to benefit financially from it. At the very least, this case shows that a public agency should not develop policies jointly with the corporate contractors that it funds.