Mandated Reporting of a Hoarder

My guest blogger for today is Tiffany deSilva, a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, Organizing & Productivity Coach, and ADHD Coach who has been featured on TLC’s show Hoarding: Buried Alive.

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There are three types of cases in which hoarding crosses the line from being “harmless” clutter to a serious instance of neglect or self-neglect. These three scenarios are: hoarding involving animals; hoarding involving children; and hoarding involving vulnerable (e.g. disabled or dependent) or elderly adults.

Types of Neglect Associated with Hoarding

Hoarding involving animals often results in animal neglect. Animal neglect refers to the failure to provide adequate food, water, safe and sanitary shelter, vet care, socialization, or the opportunity to exercise. Animal neglect is associated with both hoarding and animal hoarding. It’s not hard to see how difficult it might be to provide the basic needs to an animal living in a hoarding situation. Animal hoarding is often the most extreme form of animal neglect as it poses significant health hazards to the animals, anyone living in the home, and neighboring households.

Hoarding involving children may result in child neglect if the hoarding is affecting the parents’ ability to provide the children with basic needs such as, food, water, clothing, or a safe and sanitary place to live. Similarly, neglect occurs when hoarding negatively impacts a caregiver’s ability to provide the basic needs for an elderly or vulnerable adult.

According to the Aging and Disability Services Administration, self-neglect occurs when a vulnerable adult fails to provide adequately for his or her self and jeopardizes his or her well-being. This includes a vulnerable adult living in hazardous, unsafe, or unsanitary living conditions, or not having adequate food or water. A cognitively or physically impaired adult living in a hoarded home would be an example of self-neglect. If the adult is of sound body and mind, and could independently care for himself, it is NOT considered to be self-neglect.

Unsafe Conditions in a Hoarded Home that May Constitute Neglect

  • Significant rodent or animal infestation
  • Significant insect infestation, such as roaches, fleas, lice, bed bugs, etc.
  • Extreme disrepair of the home (broken windows, structural damage, etc.)
  • Human and/or animal feces that is allowed to collect in the home in an unsanitary manner
  • Diseased or dangerous pets (e.g. a dog with rabies)
  • Animal hoarding
  • Sharp or dangerous tools, objects, or weapons that are easily accessible to children
  • Trash collecting or spilling onto the floors
  • Cluttered stairs or blocked exits
  • Extensive clutter which impairs essential daily functioning or creates a fire or safety hazard
  • Fire hazards such as improper wiring, the improper use of extension cords, or the inappropriate storage of combustibles.
  • Significant mold in the home
  • Toxic chemicals, gases, or other substances (e.g. lead, asbestos, radon, mercury, etc.)
  • Lack of utilities such as heat, electricity, running water, etc.

What You Can Do to Help

Below is my list of the top 5 things you can do to help in hoarding situations.

  1. Create a plan for safety.  Determine what the next steps are for restoring safety after you’ve discovered any health or safety hazards. Prioritize based on what is the most immediate threat.
  2. Focus on eliminating any existing safety or health hazards listed above.  I recommend reading Digging Out by Tompkins and Hartl to learn more about harm reduction.  If agencies are involved, they’ll tell you what needs to be done to bring the home up to code or to restore safety.
  3. Find temporary safe shelter for children, vulnerable adults, elderly adults, or pets while you are working on eliminating the hazards in the home.  Choices for temporary care include: shelters like the Redcross, staying with a relative, a hotel, respite care, adult daycare, or childcare centers.
  4. Educate yourself on your area’s local codes and laws regarding neglect. Agencies you might want to search for locally include: Child Protective Services (CPS), Adult Protective Services (APS), the Health Department, Zoning and Code Enforcement, the Division of Fire/Fire Code Enforcement, and Animal Control.  If you have a hoarding task force in your area, they may be able to direct you to other resources, as well.
  5. Bring in allies. Familiarize yourself with local agencies, businesses, and professionals that can help you.  This isn’t a situation you’ll want to handle on your own.

What do you do if there’s a “Stalemate?”

What do you do if you’re working to help someone in a hoarding situation that’s putting others or his or herself (in the case of self-neglect) at risk and they aren’t making progress in clearing out the clutter? Or, what if they aren’t receptive to creating a safety plan? Under these circumstances, you’ll need to contact CPS, APS, or another agency that is charged with looking out for those who cannot care for themselves.

In addition to being a professional organizer, I am a Licensed Social Worker. As such, I’m also a mandated reporter, which means I am required by law to report cases of abuse and neglect. In 18 states and Puerto Rico, ANYONE who suspects abuse or neglect is required by law to report it, regardless of their profession. If you live in Canada, you are also required by law to report child abuse or neglect. If you’re not professionally mandated by law, you can usually file a report anonymously. Check out www.childwelfare.gov for more information.

Before working with my clients, I let them know that I uphold confidentiality except in cases I am required by law to report, or if there is a significant threat of harm or potential harm to them or someone else. This ensures my clients know exactly what to expect, as far as my confidentiality agreement is concerned.

If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to make a referral to CPS, APS, or another agency, trust that you’re doing the right thing to look out for those who are in danger and can’t advocate for themselves. If you’re a professional organizer, seek support from colleagues or other professionals to help you deal with the stress of making a referral. If you’re a family member, and you need to make a report, seek support from family, friends, colleagues, professionals, etc. and continue to support your relative who is struggling with hoarding. If you are struggling with hoarding and you fear that you may be putting others at risk, reach out for help and work hard to eliminate any dangers. If agencies do get involved, try to remember that they are on your side and ultimately want to help you get better, keep your home, and keep your family intact. In situations where hoarding requires significant resources to recreate a safe environment, local agencies can be your biggest allies. Making a referral is never easy but it may be the necessary step for finally getting desperately needed help.

Tiffany deSilva, MSW, LSW, CPO-CD, is the owner of Order and Balance®, LLC and specializes in Chronic Disorganization, ADHD, and Compulsive Hoarding. Tiffany was featured on the original episode of TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive. Her new book, Digging for Treasure: Uncovering the Gems Buried Beneath the Clutter, is scheduled for release in early 2011. Visit www.orderandbalance.com for more information and check out Tiffany’s new site, www.orderforHOARDERS.com.

Follow Tiffany on twitter at www.twitter.com/orderandbalance

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Geralin Thomas

Professional Organizer, CPO-CD. New Professional Organizer Trainer at Metropolitan Organizing, LLC
I work with people who want to become professional organizers and create sustainable, profitable, and sensible organizing businesses. Through Metropolitan Organizing—"Metrozing" for short—I offer coaching internationally via phone and Skype. Additionally, I offer products like the New Organizers’ Essentials Kit to help get organizers boost their businesses. If you want to become a professional organizer, I can help! Find my "Become a Professional Organizer" board on Pinterest! Additionally, Metropolitan Organizing helps chronically disorganized clients in the Raleigh area organize their office, home, time, or life. For home organization services in the Raleigh area, leave a message at (919) 380-7718 or fill out the contact form on the website. Search for Geralin Thomas on : Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Linkedin | IMDb

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Comments

  1. help says

    my brother and wife are hoarders. They have no children. The house is full of stuff, in some places to the ceiling. There is hardly space to walk. Stuff keeps failing when you walk by. There are mouse droppings everywhere. They do no have any pets. They have received some help in the past but the empty spaces get filled up with stuff again. It seems very dangerous to me to live there. They do not want to stay in the house because of its condition so they are always going out.and are home in the evening to sleep. I fear for them and do not know what to do. There is no place to sit and they now have to wash clothes by hand. Nothing in the kitchen is usable except for the burners and a small refrigerator that sits on the counter. What would be considered unsafe?
    They have fallen and have gotten hurt. One of them is very attached to the stuff and neither of them will go to counseling. They are seniors.
    I think one of them would fall apart if the stuff was taken away. I need help in knowing what to do or what not to do. Is there a phone number I can call to talk to someone? Thank you.

    • says

      The best place to start is with a therapist or social worker.
      Contact a local psychologist or social worker via telephone and ask them for names of numbers of people in your zip code who are familiar with this disorder.
      Take photos of the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom if you have permission and share them with the therapist/social worker.

  2. KD says

    I was living with my fiance in what was originally my apartment. After I lost my job, things went down very quickly and we had to move in with his grandfather and his younger brother. The only problem with this is that his grandfather is a hoarder. There’s old radios, papers, magazines, boxes upon boxes filled with stuff, VHS tapes, there are bunk beds so the top bunk can be used as storage, there’s no stove, no hot water to clean with in the kitchen, no counter space in the kitchen, the bathroom is filthy (even after him supposedly cleaning it)…you have to side step to get through anywhere, even the front door. I’ve tried to help by starting to clean up the kitchen and his grandfather gets upset when I throw away paper tubs from what use to be ramen noodles or the boxes that the ramen packages came in. He says that if I clean that he won’t be able to find anything. My fiance even offered to label the cabinets…he said he still wouldn’t be able to find anything. When he cleans the dishes, there’s still a film on them half the time. This place is SO gross! I’ve always lived in a clean home and some of the ways that I help sort out things in my head is by cleaning and I feel better when I organize my surrounding. I can’t do that here. I’m stuck in our room(which is CLEAN) unless I want to make us something to eat. Which is confined to a small microwave. So we’re not eating healthy. I can’t say anything because I can’t buy food currently. My fiance’s Mom is a hoarder too. Not as bad but bad enough to be called one. Her mother is a collector of stuff but isn’t filthy. She organizes things and her house smells nice, you can cook there, things are clean and dusted. Part of all this was venting but I’m honestly lost as to what to do. I don’t have friends or family to stay with,

  3. peggy says

    Hello,I have a friend that is a hoarder. Its at the point she has not had a bath for 7 mos. She does nothing but lay in bed and read. The only place she can sit is on the toliet! Her house is full of things she orders . I have known her
    for 30 yrs,she just turned 58. She has been treated for OCD for yrs and is on meds.She just takes pills and sleeps most of the time. Who can I call if someone is not caring for themself?

    • says

      Peggy,
      The situation (you’ve described) is very serious and I suggest you take immediate action.
      You should contact the Department of Social Services in your state; you can find (local contact information) by doing a Google search and adding your city/state name. For example, if living in Raleigh, NC the search query would look like this: “Department of Social Services, Raleigh, NC”

  4. J E Barry says

    I recently received a vicious e-mail from a friend that I was attempting to help clean and organize her house. I’ve tried for years to accomplish this with no avail. This person has severe breathing problems and I’ve told her that she will never get completely well until she does something about the filth that she lives in. Attempting to vacuum 1/2 of her living room took all day and the dust bin on the vacuum was emptied 23 times. I’ve told her that I won’t stay overnight in her house because it is filthy. I drive 2 hours to get to her house and 2 hours back to mine but this apparently isn’t enough for her. After the vicious e-mail attack I have no plans to return to her house. What can be done to help this situation?

    • Ariel says

      I think your friend will do something awful to you I’m response to your kindness. If she is putting others at risk. You should. Intact fire department and landlord.

    • says

      Hi, J. E.,

      I know it can be frustrating to want to help your friend when she isn’t accepting your efforts. Without knowing the particular situation with your friend, it’s hard to give advice. Just be on the look out for safety issues that she me causing for others and seek help from the proper authorities, if appropriate.

      If her home is just dirty yet habitable, and she’s the only one affected by it, there may not be much you can do other than supporting her and offering her help when she’s ready.

    • Hope says

      JE good job for helping your friend. As you may already suspect it seems like you are dealing with a person with some kind of disorder (I’m not a therapist). I think you should keep this in mind every time she agitates you in this way. I think let her know (with empathy) how much time you do have to devote to her problem and don’t bother allowing yourself to be drawn into an argument or to feel guilty. Just do what you can and when you can. Allow yourself to back off when you need time and space. The help of a therapist to aid both your efforts will probably do a lot of good – maybe the most good.

      Good luck.

  5. Anonymous says

    Hello, MM. It definitely sounds like you’re in a difficult situation. I commend you for being proactive in trying to protect your step-son and his sibling. Let me preface this comment by saying that I am not a lawyer nor an expert on CPS laws in Arizona, but I know the child abuse and neglect laws in Arizona don’t differ that much from the rest of the country. You most definitely do NOT have to wait until a child is injured before CPS gets involved–that defeats the purpose of having CPS in the first place. If you’re getting that message from someone, ask to speak to their supervisor immediately.

    With that being said, CPS must believe that the child is at risk for harm before they will investigate a report. While you don’t need to prove that neglect is taking place in the home when you make a report, you should try to convey as much specific information as possible. The truth is having a messy home or a dirty house, alone, is not grounds for opening a case. The home has to be VERY dirty, extremely unsanitary, and/or hazardous. Make sure you tell CPS exactly what you observe so they have an idea of the severity. Examples of things they may want to know: Are there rodents or pests in the food storage areas, bedding, crawling on the children, etc? Is the clutter blocking exits, or causing fire hazards? Is there a risk that the piles of clutter will fall on the child or entrap him or her? Is mobility restricted within the home? What is the extent of the trash on the floor? Is there significant mold growing in the bathrooms or other parts of the house? And so on…

    If you continue to see things that look like a safety hazard in the home, file another report. If you think the children are in immediate danger call law enforcement. Create a safety plan for your stepson so he knows what to do if he feels like he is in danger or is left alone. I don’t know how old your stepson is, but perhaps you can have him call you or you can check in with him to make sure he is okay when visiting his mother. This might be a case where giving a young child a cellphone is justified (a cheap prepaid one, or one made for small children).

    Here’s a link for more information on CPS in Arizona https://www.azdes.gov/dcyf/cps/reporting.asp
    Be very persistent if you feel your stepson is in danger. You may want to mention to your pediatrician that your stepson feels itchy and like bugs are crawling on him. He may be able to give you a referral to a professional who could evaluate how this is affecting him emotionally. I hope this helps and I wish you and your family the best of luck.

    Tiffany deSilva, MSW, LSW, CPO-CD

  6. Anonymous says

    So Tiffany,

    What’s the next step when you’ve reported a hoarding situation to CPS and they say, “we can’t do anything about that.” Basically, we have to wait until a child gets hurt before they’ll get involved in Arizona. We also reported to the Health Department and they said that they would send an investigator over but they can only address the garbage outside the home and nothing inside.

    This person we reported has a nine-month old child who is crawling and my step-son who visits. Our court order allows us to withhold visitation if we feel the environment is unhealthy so we told her that she must provide us with proof of a clean inspection before we allow another visit. This person does not work, stays home all day but can’t clean the house. She has bags and bags of decomposing garbage in her backyard, piles of paper, junk, dirty dishes. The floors, surfaces, bathrooms… haven’t been washed in years. She has OCD and is a hoarder – not as bad as some but still has issues with removing paper and garbage, issues and rituals for how to wash herself, her laundry, dishes, etc. She often leaves the kids alone for hours while she has an episode of cleaning herself in the shower. The home is infested with bugs. It’s terrible. Her obsessions with bugs is starting to affect my step-son to the point that he thinks he’s itchy and bugs are crawling on him on the time.

    Who can help with this?

    -mm

  7. bg says

    My husband and I are currently in this same situation with his son and ex. We are scheduled to close our case today and are very very concerned that nothing has been done. The other home is unsafe, hoarding involved, vulnerable senior citizen on oxygen also lives there, flea infestation, in the bedding & on child. Everything that you said to mm about her stepsons home is what is wrong with my stepsons home. Yet the caseworker is willing to close case and let conditions remain horrid. What further steps can we take to help the home become healthy?

  8. says

    Hi bg,

    Not knowing the specifics of the situation, I would recommend documenting each safety hazard you see. If you see the child covered in fleas or the child has bug bites, take pictures and take him or her to their pediatrician and have them examined. It might be helpful to have the physician write an unbiased statement in regards to any health issues pertaining to the child. If you feel the child is in danger, be persistent. If you feel like the elder adult is in danger, contact Adult Protective Services, as well.