Congress should create and fund a national database that contains demographic data about older adults who have guardians, recommends a new white paper from Justice in Aging.

The national nonprofit legal advocacy organization is focused on fighting senior poverty through law.

“At the macro level, it is unclear even how many adults in the United States are currently under guardianship,” wrote author Jim Berchtold, senior attorney. “At the micro level, there is no data to illuminate the identity of those adults — their age, race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, or language spoken — or the factors that led to guardianship in the first place — their health issues, cognitive impairment, finances, housing and living conditions, and the like.”

A new guardianship court improvement program, according to the publication, could be modeled after the Child Welfare Court Improvement Program, providing funding directly to participating state courts, and those courts could standardize data collection using National Open Court Data Standards, or NODS.

Justice in Aging recommends that the courts provide the data to a new national repository that would be accessible by “courts, advocates, researchers, policymakers, and other interested parties within the larger guardianship system.”

The data could be collected via initial petitions, annual reports and other documents that are standardized, available in multiple languages and “adhere to best practices with respect to, among other things, plain language, cultural competency, and person-centeredness,” Berchtold wrote.

Justice in Aging is particularly interested in the effects of guardianship on marginalized communities — “older adults of color, LGBTQ+ older adults, and those with other marginalized identities.”

“[T]he systemic inequalities experienced over the life of a marginalized older adult can increase the adult’s risk of various harms, including chronic disease and death, which may contribute to an increased likelihood of guardianship,” according to the white paper.

Among federal efforts focused on guardianship, Berchtold cited the Guardianship Bill of Rights Act introduced last year by Sen Bob Casey (D-PA), chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. As McKnight’s Senior Living reported at the time, Casey said that the bill, if passed, “would address the nation’s patchwork guardianship system and explore alternatives to guardianships to protect Americans’ civil rights while getting them the support they need.”

Justice in Aging, however, noted that “the bill appears to have stalled.”