Washington, DC – The National Council on Disability’s new comprehensive report on the rights of parents who have disabilities reveals startling statistics showing how vulnerable these parents are to losing their children via the court system. According to their research, more than 4 million parents—6 percent of American mothers and fathers—have a disability. Yet their rights are often in jeopardy – the rate at which children are taken from parents who have intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) is between 40% and 80%.
“This report uncovers the heartbreaking reality for too many families across the country – parents with disabilities are treated unjustly when it comes to their rights as parents, and far too many families are broken apart by outdated and discriminatory practices,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.
The National Council on Disability’s report provides a comprehensive review of the barriers and discrimination people with disabilities – including I/DD, psychiatric disabilities, sensory disabilities, and physical disabilities – experience when they are creating and maintaining families. Two-thirds of dependency statutes allow the court to reach the determination that a parent is unfit on the basis of the parent’s disability. In every state, disability may be considered when determining the best interest of a child for purposes of a custody determination in family or dependency court. The National Council on Disability wrote: “People with disabilities are the only distinct group that struggles to maintain custody of its children.”
In positive news, a chapter of The Arc was particularly highlighted by the National Council on Disability for their good work in this area. The United Arc of Franklin and Hampshire Counties in Greenfield, Massachusetts runs a program called The Positive Parenting Resource Center which provides services and support to families headed by parents with I/DD, including one-on-one support, education groups, mentoring, and more.
The report highlights twenty findings, makes numerous recommendations, and provides examples of how laws in Kansas and Idaho have been changed to protect the rights of parents with disabilities.
“The good news is that there are plenty of ways that we can improve the lives of parents with disabilities, illustrated by The United Arc of Franklin and Hampshire Counties and other organizations across the country. Now we must put pressure on decision makers to enact the changes necessary that protect parental rights, before more families are impacted by decisions that discriminate against disability,” said Berns.