Public Guardian

What is a Public Guardian?

Public Guardians are advocates for the most vulnerable adults. They are a strong voice for those who cannot advocate for themselves due to their disabilities. In Virginia, those advocates serve as a public safety net for adults who are:

  • Incapacitated;

  • Indigent; and

  • In need of someone to help them make medical, financial, or daily living decisions, but who have no suitable person to serve as their guardian.

Senior Connections, CAAA’s Public Guardian Program is one of 13 programs that contract with the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) across the state. The staff are Social Workers and Human Service workers experienced in working with persons with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, and cognitive impairments.

Mission of the Program

Public Guardians respond to the critical unmet needs of adults with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, and cognitive impairments. The Public Guardian’s duty is to ensure these adults are treated with dignity and respect while maintaining the highest quality of life possible.

Common Misconceptions about Public Guardianship

The Virginia Public Guardian and Conservator Program is an important part of the social safety net for many of Virginia’s most vulnerable individuals. There are, however, many misconceptions about the Program’s role. These include the following

  • Misconception 1: Program Standards Apply to All Guardians Appointed by a Virginia Court.

    Fact: The standards established by DARS for public guardianship services only apply to individuals
    who are receiving public guardianship services as part of the Program. In Virginia, all guardianships are
    established by Virginia circuit courts pursuant to orders that establish and define the powers of the
    guardian. All public and private guardians are subject to the authority of the court, the requirements and
    limitations included in the guardianship order, and the provisions of §§ 64.2-2000 et seq. of the Code of
    Virginia. Only individuals receiving public guardianship services as part of the Program, however, are
    protected by the provisions of §§ 51.5-149 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, 22VAC30-70, and the PGP
    Provider’s contract with DARS.

  • Misconception 2: Any Guardian who is not a Family Member is a Virginia Public Guardian.

    Fact: A Virginia public guardian is contracted with DARS to provide public guardianship services to a specified number of individuals as part of the Program. Only a small portion of individuals under guardianship in Virginia received public guardianship services from a public guardian. In addition, not all of the guardianship clients served by PGP Providers are receiving public guardianship services. Several PGP Providers also operate private guardianship programs. In those instances, clients served as part of the PGP Provider’s private guardianship program are not part of the Program. To help ensure a clear distinction, each PGP Provider is required to (i) register with the Virginia State Corporation Commission a tradename for its public guardianship operations that includes the phrase “Public Guardian Program,” (ii) use that tradename on all documents signed on behalf of public guardian clients, and (iii) refrain from using that tradename in connection with services provided to any other individual.

  • Misconception 3: A Public Guardian Provides Direct Services to its Clients.

    Fact: Public guardians and their employees who interact with clients directly (“Guardian
    Representatives”), are legal decision-makers who consent to, and oversee, the services provided to their clients. They also advocate for their clients’ needs. Guardian Representatives are not hands-on caregivers. Guardian Representatives are not required or expected to provide direct hands-on care. They are not substitutes for qualified providers of behavioral health services, long-term care, acute or primary care, or other health or personal care services.

  • Misconception 4: A Public Guardian Can Control an Individual’s Behaviors.

    Fact: Many referring entities request a public guardian in the hope of controlling the behaviors of a “difficult” individual. A public guardian is a legal decision-maker, but a public guardian cannot control the behaviors of clients. A public guardian can consent to medical care, arrange residential placement,
    and consent to the provision of various social services. A public guardian, however, cannot force a client to take medication, keep a job, stop abusing substances, or terminate a relationship with a person they wish to see and have the ability to contact.
    A legal determination that an individual is incapacitated and in need of a guardian is a substantial deprivation of an individual’s right to be in control of their own life that should be entered into conservatively. The Code of Virginia makes clear in the definition of “incapacitated person” that a determination that a person is incapacitated should be reserved for situations in which the individual “has been found by a court to be incapable [emphasis added] of receiving and evaluating information effectively or responding to people, events, or environments to such an extent that the individual lacks the capacity to (i) meet the essential requirements for his health, care, safety, or therapeutic needs without the assistance or protection of a guardian or (ii) manage property or financial affairs or provide for his support or for the support of his legal dependents without the assistance or protection of a conservator” (§ 64.2-2000 of the Code of Virginia). The definition goes on to state, “A finding that the individual displays poor judgment alone shall not be considered sufficient evidence that the individual is an incapacitated person within the meaning of this definition.” Whether an individual is appointed a guardian should not be based on whether a guardian would
    exercise “better:” judgement than the allegedly incapacitated individual, but whether the individual truly lacks capacity to make essential decisions for themselves.

  • Misconception 5: A Public Guardian should be Appointed Whenever There is an Emergency Need for a Guardian.

    Fact: The Program is not structured to serve as an emergency provider of guardianship services. Many situations can occur that give rise to a potential need for an emergency guardianship (e.g., the death of an existing guardian or a family caretaker, a young adult aging out of foster care, a hospital or a residential facility in need of discharge assistance, or a situation involving abuse, neglect or financial exploitation). There are limited Program slots for the entire Commonwealth, and they are allocated among different geographic areas. The conditions that lead an individual to be placed under guardianship rarely improve over time, so individuals who receive a public guardianship slot generally hold that slot for the remainder of their life. A PGP Provider cannot accept public clients: (i) in excess of the slots allocated through its contract with DARS, (ii) outside of its contracted service area, or (iii) that will cause it to be out of compliance with the Program’s staffing requirements. Therefore, a PGP Provider generally will not have an open slot when an emergency arises and usually has a waiting list of individuals in great need of public guardianship services.

  • Misconception 6: Any Compassionate Person can be an Effective Guardian Representative for a PGP Provider.

    Fact: While compassion is an essential qualification Guardian Representatives, effective Guardian Representatives must have extensive knowledge of the laws, regulations, and systems affecting their
    clients, including, for example:
    • Benefits available through the Social Security Administration and the Veterans Administration;
    • Medicare and Medicaid benefits;
    • Medicaid Home and Community Based Services waivers that fund many of the services provided to older adults and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities;
    • DBHDS’ Discharge Assistance Plan funding used to provide benefits to individuals leaving state hospitals;
    • DSS’ Auxiliary Grant Program that funds housing for many individuals who receive
    Supplemental Security Income (SSI), including individuals incapacitated by serious mental illness and traumatic brain injuries;
    • CSB services; and
    • Regulations governing long-term care facilities. Guardian Representatives also must have an understanding of the medical conditions and psychiatric disorders that affect their clients so that they can advocate for services and provide appropriate consents. Guardian Representatives must understand Program requirements and be able to grapple with the many ethical questions that arise as they respond to their clients’ needs. They must have sufficient interpersonal skills to work effectively with their clients and the many third-party service providers, including doctors, attorneys, government employees, therapists, and residential providers. Finally, Guardian Representatives must have the intelligence, clarity, and conviction needed to advocate on behalf of their clients.

What are the Duties and Responsibilities of a Public Guardian?

  • Act on behalf of the individual only to the extent of the court order

  • Coordinate and monitor professional supports needed by the person

  • Determine and monitor living arrangements

  • Consent to and monitor medical care

  • Consent to and monitor non-medical supports - day services, counseling, etc.

  • Consent to transportation arrangements

  • Release confidential information when necessary

  • Make end of life decisions

  • Annual review by Multi-Disciplinary Panel to assess the continued need for guardianship and alert the court to a potential restoration of some or all of the person’s rights

  • Provide on-going advocacy

  • Report annually to the local Department of Social Services to ensure the person is receiving adequate care

  • 24-Hour On-Call Service

What is the role of the Public Guardian?

  • To utilize a person-centered-approach to enhancing the individual’s quality of life

  • To include the individual in the decision-making process as much as possible

  • To determine the individual’s personal desires, preferences and goals

  • To advocate on the individual’s behalf

Goals of the Program

  • Provide court appointed Public Guardian services for adults who lack the capacity to make decisions and are at risk of abuse or neglect.

  • Coordinate direct and indirect supports to meet the essential requirements for physical and emotional health and personal welfare of persons declared to be incapacitated by the court.

Is there a cost?

There is no charge for the service however there maybe costs associated with the petition for a Public Guardian.

Capacity of the Program

Senior Connections Public Guardian Program serves, at capacity, 40 individuals with a ratio of 1 human service worker to 20 incapacitated persons.

Who is Eligible?

  • Resident of the City of Richmond or New Kent and Charles City Counties

  • 18 Years of Age and Older

  • Indigent and Incapacitated

  • Have no one else willing, or suitable, to serve as Guardian

Whom to Contact?

Please call (804) 343-3000 between the hours of 8:30 am and 5:00 pm and ask to speak to the Public Guardian Program Manager, Edward P. Richards, B.S.W.

How to obtain a Public Guardian?

Space is extremely limited due to funding constraints and a passion to provide the highest quality of service. Below you will find a general snapshot of the process to obtain a Public Guardian:

  • A local referral source identifies a person who needs guardianship services.

  • The referral source contacts the local Public Guardian service provider for the geographic area where the incapacitated person resides.

  • The referral source completes the referral form received from the Public Guardian program. The form is designed to gather necessary factual information.

  • The referral is next reviewed by the programs volunteer Multidisciplinary Panel (MDP), who is responsible for the final decision. If denied a detailed description of why is provided. To review the Code of Virginia Requirements of the MDP click here for administrative code section 22VAC30-70-30. Public guardian programs.

  • If the person is accepted, the referral source engages an attorney to request a capacity evaluation and guardianship hearing before a Virginia Circuit Court pursuant to Virginia Code Section 64.2-2000 et. seq.

  • If the Circuit Court finds that the person is incapacitated and indigent the Public Guardian is suggested as a suitable guardian as long as no other suitable person can be identified.

  • The Circuit Court makes the appointment and the Public Guardian takes over as guardian for the incapacitated person.

Program Referral

Referrals for the Senior Connections Public Guardian programs waiting list are always welcome. Frequently asked questions and other referral questions for the Public Guardianship program can be found by clicking the button below.

For Information on how to find a Public Guardian program near you click the button below.

To complete a Senior Connections Public Guardianship program referral for consideration, contact the Program Manager:

Please call (804) 343-3000 between the hours of 8:30 am and 5:00 pm and ask to speak to the Public Guardian Program Manager, Edward P. Richards, B.S.W.

Alternatives to Public Guardianship

There are many options for Virginia residents to receive support in their decision-making needs. Click below to learn about alternatives to Public Guardianship.

Success Story

Ms. Goodlife is a 55 year old who suffers from severe mental illness, a seizure disorder and hypertension.  Her health and mental health needs were neglected and she was at high risk of financial exploitation. Senior Connections was appointed as her Public Guardian in 2016 and since then has been monitoring her living arrangements and advocating for her care. Currently she is receiving all of the medication she requires for hypertension and a seizure disorder. She is also receiving mental health supports to help her manage symptoms. She is now safe and stable, in an Assisted Living facility that she likes, and is surrounded by staff that care deeply for her wellbeing.