• 40% to 80% of Parents in U.S. with Intellectual Disabilities Lose Custody of their Children

    Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced an agreement with the state of Oregon to develop a system to ensure the state’s child welfare agency does not discriminate against parents with disabilities, a move that could benefit one in ten parents in the United States. The agreement stems from a case involving Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler. Fabbrini and Ziegler endured a five-year battle with the state of Oregon to regain custody of their two sons, who were both taken into foster care after their respective births. No abuse was alleged against Fabbrini and Ziegler, who say their below-average scores on state-sanctioned IQ tests are why Oregon held the children in foster care until their court-ordered releases in late 2017 and early 2018. Fabbrini and Ziegler’s case is not unique. At least 40 percent to 80 percent of parents in the United States with intellectual disabilities will lose custody of their children, according to a 2012 report from the National Council on Disability, on which I was the primary author. This discrimination is not only harmful to families—it is also unlawful. Indeed, both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibit child welfare agencies and courts from discriminating against disabled parents. These federal laws also require child welfare agencies and courts to provide reasonable modifications in policies, programs, and procedures to ensure disabled parents are offered an equal opportunity. For example, Deaf parents must be provided sign language interpreters, and parents with intellectual disabilities should receive individualized services based on the family’s needs. Yet, nearly 50 years since the Rehabilitation Act was passed and 30 years since the ADA became law, discrimination continues to persist. As a result, families are being torn apart. Such discrimination is a long-standing issue in U.S. history, rooted in eugenics practices.

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