Washington, DC – Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services found that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) violated the rights of a mother with developmental disabilities. The mother was denied the opportunity to benefit from supports and services following the removal of her two-day-old infant, and over the next two years as she was seeking to reunite with her daughter. Unfortunately, despite research that affirms the ability of parents with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) to raise a child successfully with appropriate and effective supports, access to these supports continues to be limited, fragmented and uncertain. The Arc is a strong proponent of the right of parents with I/DD to raise children with supports, as needed, from family, agencies and the community.
“Plain and simple, this is a case of discrimination against a person with a disability and a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This mother has rights that the state ignored and the outcome is appalling. The situation easily could have been resolved when she was pregnant, not two days after she gave birth. Had the situation been dealt with earlier, a plan could have been crafted and mother and daughter could be together receiving the supports they needed from family and the community. We are grateful to the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services for standing up for the rights of this mother and for parents with I/DD across the country,” said Peter Berns CEO of The Arc.
The Arc of Massachusetts is supporting state legislation to prohibit discrimination against adults with disabilities in family and juvenile court proceedings. Parents with disabilities are more likely to lose custody of their children after divorce. According to the National Council on Disability, removal rates of children from parents with psychiatric or intellectual disability is as high as 70—80%. Parents with sensory or physical disabilities also experience extremely high removal rates and loss of their parental rights.
“We hope that caseworkers and leadership at DCF learn from this decision,” said Leo V. Sarkissian, Executive Director of The Arc of Massachusetts. “Some DCF offices do recognize that persons with disabilities can be effective parents and have shown that in partnering with chapters and other disability support agencies.”
In Massachusetts two local chapters (EMArc and the United Arc) collaborate with DCF in order to provide high quality, curriculum founded, home-based intensive services for parents with I/DD and have provided these services and supports for over 15 years.
For further information see the recent report of the National Council on Disability: “Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children,” which can be found at: http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/Sep272012/.