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Webinar: Nicky’s Law, Born of Outrage, Aims to Protect People with Disabilities

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed Nicky’s Law into law in March of this year, ending a six-year journey for advocates seeking to protect people with disabilities.

The law, officially called “An Act To Protect Persons with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities from Abuse,” is named after Nicky Chan, a young man with a disability who was abused by an employee at a day program he attended. Because the employee and a witness who never reported the abuse were never convicted of a crime, the abuse did not show up on their records, leaving both able to find employment at another agency where they might abuse again.

In the webinar, “Nicky's Law: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph,” Nicky’s mother, Cheryl Ryan Chan, discusses her quest to establish a registry of the names of people whose abuse has been substantiated per existing investigative guidelines.

The webinar was part of Nonotuck’s annual AFC (Adult Family Care) Summit. Each year, Nonotuck hosts the AFC Summit to offer AFC provider organizations educational sessions and opportunities to network with other professionals in the field. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s summit took place virtually, with all five sessions now available on Nonotuck’s website as webinars.

In the webinar, Chan walks participants through the history of the law: how she and her husband found out about the abuse, what the paperwork looked like, how the case was investigated by the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) and what her role in the investigation was, and, finally, how she and other advocates went about changing how abuse allegations were handled.

Chan says the DPPC received more than 20,000 hotline calls in 2019 and completed more than 1,000 investigations.

“They’re taking a lot of calls,” Chan says. Complaints range from inadequate staffing to theft, but not every reported incident requires investigation. In addition, the DPPC does not conduct criminal investigations. Instead, if the agency determines that criminal activity took place, they make  a referral to the district attorney.

Chan says the catalyst for Nicky’s Law was her question about what mechanism was in place to prevent an abuser not convicted of a crime from getting a job at another agency. “And the answer was nothing.” 

Even though cases against the employee and the witness had been substantiated by DPPC, and even though the physical abuse case had been referred to the district attorney, either person could easily pursue another job with another agency.

In the webinar, Chan offers advice on how to craft a letter to legislators, when and how to contact the media, how to become the face of a movement, and how to raise up the voices of the community.

Chan says as soon as her family made their story public, they began receiving emails from other families whose loved ones had been abused. 

“That was very helpful to us personally and it was very helpful to the cause of Nicky’s Law,” she says. “We realized and the legislators realized and the public realized that this is not just one person’s story… this is a chronic problem.”

Nicky’s Law helps protect people with disabilities in the state of Massachusetts. But Chan says the abuse of people with disabilities continues.

“Until people with disabilities are actually valued as human beings and seen as citizens who contribute to their communities, we’re going to see this happening over and over again,” she says.

“(Through shared living) people with a disability experience a real transformation and discover confidence in themselves; they discover their capacity to make choices, and also find a certain liberty and above all their dignity as human beings.”

—Jean Vanier

Caregiving with Love:
Guide for Shared Living Providers

Learn how Nonotuck developed a love-based ideology of care. We started our shared living program as an alternative to group homes for people with disabilities. Instead, Shared Living creates genuine life transformation for people with disabilities, as well as families and communities. The true power of caregiving is found through hospitality, authenticity, and love.

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