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Saturday, July 16, 2022

Protecting Parents with Disabilities

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the civil rights of people with autism and other disabilities

A release from Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI):
Representatives Jim Langevin (D-RI), Karen Bass (D-CA), Don Bacon (R-NE), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) today are introducing the bipartisan Equality for Families with Disabilities Act. This legislation, introduced just two weeks before the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, seeks to eliminate discrimination against parents and guardians with disabilities in state child welfare proceedings.

Currently, there are 4.1 million parents with disabilities living in the United States. While studies show that children raised by parents with disabilities do not experience worse outcomes or inferior development, parents and guardians with disabilities face disproportionate targeting for unwarranted intervention and excessive scrutiny from child welfare agencies. To combat this systemic problem, this legislation will:Crack down on discrimination against parents and guardians with disabilities by requiring individualized, fact-based evaluations of parenting capabilities to prevent state agencies from restricting parental rights solely based on disability status;Require state child welfare plans to include supports for parents, guardians, and other caregivers with disabilities;Amend the Court Improvement Program (CIP) formula grants so that state courts can use funding to assess the accessibility of state child welfare proceedings for parents and guardians with disabilities, and to implement improvements based on these assessments, such as sign language interpretation or other physical accessibility accommodations;Require state courts that receive CIP funds to demonstrate meaningful efforts to ensure full and equal participation for parents and guardians with disabilities in child welfare proceedings;Requires HHS and DOJ, in consultation with relevant agencies, organizations, and individuals, to revise and update relevant 2015 technical assistance to include education and training materials for states.

“For far too long, parents and guardians with disabilities have faced undue discrimination in state child welfare proceedings,” said Congressman Jim Langevin, co-chair of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus and co-chair of the Congressional Foster Youth Caucus. “The research is clear – children raised by parents with disabilities do not exhibit stunted development or worse outcomes than their peers. In fact, children raised by parents with disabilities demonstrate greater compassion, tolerance, problem-solving skills, and other positive characteristics. It’s time to end discrimination against parents and guardians in child welfare proceedings, once and for all.”

“Removing a child from their parents solely because their parents have a disability is wrong. We should be doing everything we can to keep families together, which is why we are introducing this important piece of legislation today to provide support for parents, guardians, and other caregivers with disabilities and to ensure any parent or guardian involved in a child welfare proceeding receives a fair assessment of their capabilities,” said Congresswoman Bass. “I urge my colleagues to support this important, bipartisan bill.”

“Protecting the rights of parents with disabilities must be a priority in Congress. All too often, the scrutiny on special needs families can be negatively shown in our society. Studies show that children who remain with their biological families have better outcomes across the spectrum. Our number one goal is to keep them with their families,” said Congressman Bacon.

“Currently, there are 4.1 million parents with disabilities in the United States,” said Congressman Fitzpatrick. “It is critical that we protect these parents who face excessive scrutiny and challenges. I am proud to cosponsor this bipartisan legislation and will continue to ensure that parents with disabilities are not discriminated against by state child welfare agencies.”

“Discrimination against parents and guardians with disabilities must end,” said Congresswoman Lawrence. “I am proud to support this much-needed bipartisan legislation that not only prevents discrimination against parents with disabilities in child welfare proceedings, but also requires states to provide support for parents, guardians, and caregivers with disabilities.”

“Too often, we at the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) through our members – the nationwide network of Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agencies – have seen parents questioned on their ability to care for their children and told they were unfit. They were told these things that no parent wants to hear, just because they are people with disabilities. NDRN thanks Representative Langevin for introducing the Equality for Families with Disabilities Act to help overcome this insidious discrimination against parents with disabilities. Many people with disabilities are, or look forward to becoming a parent, and shouldn’t have to worry about losing custody of their child just because of the wrongheaded assumptions of others. We hope Congress can quickly pass this important legislation to address this and to prevent state-sanctioned discrimination,” said Curt Decker, Executive Director of the National Disability Rights Network.

Once involved in the child welfare system, parents with psychiatric, intellectual, and physical disabilities permanently lose parental rights at a rate much higher than that for people without disabilities. Furthermore, parents with disabilities are more common in populations already over-represented in child welfare systems.

To make this problem even worse, parents and families with disabilities have few legal remedies available to them. More than 30 states currently list disability as grounds for termination of parental rights, and proceedings to terminate parental rights due to disability are often undertaken even in states where disability is not included as grounds for termination. Case law concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and parental rights illustrates the need for this legislation, as courts have overwhelmingly favored states and rejected the claims of parents with disabilities.