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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

Report: Disabled parents have a custody disadvantage

A new comprehensive report has found that parents with disabilities many hurdles and obstacles when they attempt to obtain and keep custody of their children. Although the report focuses primarily on the plight of married parents with disabilities, it also notes that disabled parents are more likely to lose custody of their kids after a divorce or separation. In addition, they often face barriers in their attempts to adopt a child.

It is difficult to believe that state and local officials, judges and child welfare workers can blatantly cite a parent’s disability when stating the justification for their decision to remove a child from his or her parent’s custody. After all, the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990, explicitly forbids discrimination based on disability.

And yet, according to the report, that is exactly what happens. In many states, child welfare laws allow courts to determine that a parent is unfit based solely on that parent’s disability. According to the report, this practice “clearly violates” the intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Further, it goes against the intentions of state and federal law, which are to promote the well-being of children and to protect parental rights.

So what can be done to change the view toward disabled parents? Advocates say that offering and ensuring support for disabled parents, recognizing that families with disabilities may operate differently and adding extra training and resources for child welfare workers will all serve to remedy the problem. More importantly, it seems that a massive shift in thinking about disabled people and their ability to parent their children is needed before real progress will be made.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Disabled parents face bias, loss of kids: report,” David Crary, Nov. 26, 2012