Democratic senators call for more data on conservatorships in light of Britney Spears case
Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Bob Casey (Pa.) on Thursday called on Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to provide more data on the U.S. conservatorship system, citing the case of Britney Spears as having highlighted “longstanding gaps.”
In a letter sent on Thursday, Warren and Casey referenced Spears’s impassioned statement in court last week in which she asked a judge to be released from her conservatorship, saying it has done “way more harm than good.” Spears said that she has been forced to undergo endless psychiatric evaluations, required to take unwanted medications and was not allowed to get married or have more children as she wished.
“Ms. Spears’ case has shined a light on longstanding concerns from advocates who have underscored the potential for financial and civil rights abuses of individuals placed under guardianship or conservatorship, typically older Americans and Americans with intellectual, developmental, and mental health disabilities,” Casey and Warren wrote.
The lawmakers acknowledged that many conservators “often serve selflessly and in the best interest of the person under guardianship,” but argued that there is a lack of sufficient data and oversight around guardianship proceedings that leads to “opportunities for neglect, exploitation, and abuse.”
“Despite these concerns, comprehensive data regarding guardianship (referred to as conservatorship in some states) in the United States are substantially lacking — hindering policymakers and advocates’ efforts to understand gaps and abuses in the system and find ways to address them,” they added. “This lack of data hinders the federal government’s ability to make policy changes and inform resource allocations.”
They pointed to data from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) that made it unclear as to whether the number of guardianships was growing or staying the same, calling the currently available information “outdated.”
The senators asked that in two weeks, Becerra and Garland provide data regarding the number of adults under guardianships, the number of of people acting as guardians, the value of the assets controlled by guardians, data on complaints lodged against guardians as well as data on alternatives to conservatorships.
They also asked to know what resources their respective agencies would need in order to improve data collection on conservatorships.
Spears’s conservatorship has ignited a national conversation on the matter, with many supporters in the #FreeBritney movement arguing that her conservatorship under her father has been exploitative and harmful to the singer. Spears herself said during her remarks that she believed her father and management “should be in jail.”
On Wednesday, the same judge who Spears addressed last week denied her request to have her father removed as co-conservator.
On Thursday, a group of four GOP congressman penned a letter to Spears, inviting her to speak to Congress about her conservatorship.
“We have been following your conservatorship battle with deep concern. We could see the struggle and torment you were enduring,” the Republicans wrote. “We hope that you will express interest in sharing your story. We stand with you, Britney — whatever you decide.”