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The Area Mental Illness Board will consider an agreement with federal officials next month to improve the treatment of mentally retarded clients at Industrial Services of Guilford.

The civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources began investigating the sheltered workshop last fall after parents said their mentally retarded children shouldn't be placed near workshop clients who are aggressive and sometimes violent.In part, the draft agreement would require Industrial Services to create a system to monitor and evaluate violent clients; seek money for a new program to serve people who are too violent for the workshop; and create a Human Rights Committee to guard clients' civil rights.

``I think this will help,' said Marina Wilder, who signed the complaint on behalf of more than 20 workshop parents.

``The parents' group was pleased with the draft,' she said.

Wilder said the parents would like to have representatives on a committee to decide whether to admit people to the workshop, but that's the only significant change in the draft they want.

``We're real comfortable with it,' said Wilder, who has a child in the workshop and is a member of the Guilford County Mental Illness, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Board.

The federal investigators prepared an agreement instead of issuing formal findings because Area Director Lawrence Bivens wrote civil rights officials that he was preparing a plan to serve violent clients.

The workshop already follows some of the recommendations, Bivens said. The board has been developing a human rights committee and approved a new suspension policy for violent clients in July.

The board delayed action last month on a proposal to create a separate program for people who are too disruptive or need extra training before they can enter the workshops. Board members said the program needs more study.

Bivens said he'll present the voluntary agreement to the area board in September.

``I'm not going to sign it unless the board approves it,' Bivens said.

The suspension policy allows workshop staff to suspend clients immediately if they are violent, carry weapons or use drugs or alcohol. It also sets up a review process to allow suspended clients back in the workshop.

Bivens said the suspension policy has been used several times. It works in removing violent people from the workshop, but Bivens said he's concerned that those clients often don't have anywhere to go while they're suspended.

They need a program to improve their behavior enough to return to the workshop, he said.

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