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Wednesday, July 3, 2019 12:07 am

The Amish go to court

Judge awards guardianship to daughter

 A Moultrie County judge last week awarded guardianship of an elderly Amish woman to the woman’s daughter, capping a fight that has spilled from the insular world of the Amish to the civil court system.

Allegations involve accusations of sexual abuse by a relative. Kim Adamson, a social worker with Mid-Illinois Senior Services, says she reported allegations to adult protective services after receiving calls from three people within the Amish community who said the elderly woman, who is not considered mentally fit to handle her own affairs, had been abused.

Adamson declined to identify the people who called her but said the calls triggered a mandatory report. Because the Amish are reluctant to put the elderly in nursing homes, Adamson says a large percentage of in-home help that her agency provides is to Amish families.

After Adamson made her report, the woman was removed from the home where she was living with the accused relative. No criminal charges have been filed. Tracy Weaver, Moultrie County state’s attorney, did not return a phone call about the case.

The guardianship dispute pitted the woman’s accused relative against a sibling, several people familiar with the case said, and the woman’s husband isn’t considered to be in good enough health to care for her. In February, Moultrie County Circuit Court Judge Jeremy Richey found cause for concern and awarded temporary guardianship of the woman and her estate to a daughter. The guardianship case was filed by an employee of Care Horizon, a private social service agency that holds a contract with the Illinois Department on Aging to investigate complaints and resolve allegations of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of the elderly.

“The court finds that the petitioner has alleged sufficient facts to support the finding that the appointment of a temporary guardian is necessary for the immediate welfare and protection of the disabled adult,” Richey wrote in his ruling.

On Friday, Richey made it permanent: The woman’s daughter will care for her. “We won,” Vicki Weaver, a Care Horizons employee, said afterward as she walked into a courthouse law library and embraced Adamson, who’d been waiting outside the closed hearing for hours. The woman who was awarded guardianship smiled but declined an interview request.

The case has been followed closely by the Amish community, according to Adamson, who said that community members have been talking about it via Facebook, which some use via clandestine cellphones – while Amish families can have landline phones, they are set up in small outhouse-sized structures hundreds of feet from homes so as not to interrupt family life. On Friday, an Amish minister and a church deacon came to the hearing hoping to learn more, but left after Judge Richey, as allowed by law, closed the hearing by agreement of both sides.

“We came to find out what the truth is,” said the minister, who declined to give his name. Rather than go to court, he said, the woman’s relatives should talk to each other across from a table to resolve their differences. “Something is wrong, obviously, when brothers and sisters fight in court,” he said.

Nationally, Amish have come under scrutiny for how allegations of sexual abuse are handled, with critics saying that community leaders too often treat cases as spiritual failings that can be resolved within the church instead of within the criminal justice system. The minister on Friday said the police have investigated the allegations but no charges have been filed.

“Sometimes, people say ‘You’re not doing anything,’” the minister said. “Well, give us some information. … Saying we don’t care about this is not true.” But the minister didn’t have an easy answer when asked what should be done if the woman was abused.

“If it is true, it’s disgusting,” he said.   

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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