Office of Children and Family Services

Adult Protective Services

Important Principles of Adult Protective Services

APS is responsible for seeking to protect vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect or financial exploitation, while respecting the rights of adults with capacity to self-determination.

The Concept of Self-determination

Adults, unlike children, are legally presumed to have capacity to make their own decisions. This is the concept of self-determination. This means that most adults, even most vulnerable adults who may have impairments and who may be facing danger, have the right to refuse offered services. This is why it is best practice for an APS worker to carefully and gently engage the client to try to make a connection and to offer services to protect the client from harm.

It is sometimes difficult for other providers and the concerned public to understand that APS must respect the right of an adult with capacity to refuse help offered by APS and others.

APS seeks, to the extent possible, the provision of services that maximize an individual's independence, freedom and decision-making ability. This includes assistance to enable clients to remain in, or return to, the community, as opposed to a more institutional setting.

Seeking Involuntary Interventions

APS has a unique responsibility to seek to protect vulnerable adults who appear to lack the capacity to protect themselves. When APS believes there is a serious threat to an adult’s well-being and that the adult is incapable of making decisions on his or her own behalf because of impairments, APS has a responsibility to pursue appropriate legal interventions to protect the individual, even if the vulnerable adult has not agreed to, or opposes such intervention. However, APS must employ the least restrictive intervention necessary to effectively protect the adult (see below). The decision to seek an involuntary intervention should never be taken lightly.

It is important to note that APS itself has no legal authority on its own to remove any person from their home or other setting, or to take any involuntary action. APS must request action from the court or some other official authorized to take involuntary action (e.g., law enforcement, mental health or developmental disabilities officials).

The Least Restrictive Alternative

The U.S. Supreme Court stated in Shelton vs. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479 (1960): "Even though the governmental purpose be legitimate and substantial, that purpose cannot be pursued by means that broadly stifle fundamental personal liberties when the end can be more narrowly achieved." In cases when an involuntary protective services intervention is considered – for example, for a guardianship or a civil commitment – both APS and the court should inquire whether there are any less restrictive alternatives that will adequately protect the needs of the vulnerable adult. This concept is written into the Social Services Law and the Mental Hygiene Law of the State of New York.