disabled parents with their children

by Health Impact News/MedicalKidnap.com Staff

Parents with disabilities face challenges in raising their children. One challenge that many may not have expected, however, is the right simply to BE a parent.

A recent article by the Pacific Standard describes the “uphill battle” that parents with disabilities face to keep their own children. The statistics cited are alarming:

Research indicates that parents with disabilities and their families are overrepresented in the child welfare system.

While parents with disabilities make up only 6.2 percent of all parents in the United States, a recent study found that 19 percent of children in foster care have a parent with a disability.

According to data from the Child Maltreatment report for 2016 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only about 25% of the children coming into the system are taken for reasons of physical or sexual abuse.

Most children placed into the foster care system were not abused. Nationally, only 17.2% of the allegations against parents are even substantiated.

Yet, disabled parents are losing their children at a higher rate than the general public. Sometimes, their disability is the sole reason for their children being taken from them. What is worse is that they are less likely to get their children back once the state takes them. All of this violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Ad Council slogan, “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent” is aimed at potential foster and adoptive parents, but it is a slap in the face to real parents who are told by the state that they cannot parent their children because they are less than perfect.

ad council foster parents dont have to be perfect

The government recruits foster parents and adoptive parents who “don’t have to be perfect” but routinely takes children away from biological parents if they are less than perfect.

At Health Impact News, we have covered several cases of children being taken from loving parents with disabilities. In some cases, the parents acknowledge that their disability means that they require assistance in caring for their children.

However, even in cases where there are family members willing and able to assist, Child Protective Services has placed the children with strangers and terminated parental rights.


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Successful Actor and Teacher is Denied the Right to Parent His Own Children Because He Is Blind

Christopher G. Roberts

Christopher G. Roberts has over 23 years of experience in professional theatre. He is the Founder and Producing Artistic Director of Steppingstone Theatre Company, a not-for-profit arts organization. He has an MFA degree in acting from Brooklyn College and a BA degree in theater from the University at Buffalo. Yet a judge ruled he was not capable of taking care of his children simply because he is blind. Story here.

Excerpts from Pacific Standard article, “Parents with Disabilities Face an Uphill Battle to Keep Their Children“:

Nearly one in 10 children in the United States are at risk of being removed from their home by a child welfare agency simply because their parent has a disability.

In October, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of five parents with disabilities who had their children removed by New York’s Administration for Children’s Services, alleging widespread discrimination. What happened to these families is not unique or uncommon; rather, their tragic experiences are part of a national phenomenon: Parents with disabilities are disproportionately involved with the child welfare system and once involved are more likely than non-disabled parents to have their parental rights terminated.

Children Taken from Parents for Intellectual Disability

The author describes the case of Oregon parents Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler, whose children were seized by CPS because of their “low IQ.”


Eric and Amy with their newest baby Hunter, seized from them at just 2 days old. Photo source – Bringing the Ziegler boys home to their parents Facebook page.

The Pacific Standard quotes Eric:

I tend to learn a little slower than others but it in no way affects my abilities to safely care for my kids and has no effect on my day-to-day living.

Their story, which was first reported by Health Impact News, gained international attention. We were happy to report their victory in January 2018 after a judge ruled that the children were to be returned home to their parents.


After Public Outcry Oregon Judge Orders Children Returned to Parents with “IQ Too Low to Parent”

However, the youngest child Hunter has yet to be returned. According to a post on the Bringing the Ziegler boys home to their parents Facebook page on March 4, 2018:

Shocking & very confusing…. Hunter’s attorney filed an appeal to Judge Flints’ decision in reunification!!
How long does this need to go on? When is Hunter’s best interest in reuniting with his biological family (who have fought for over four and a half long years) ever going to matter?
I am asking…Who is this attorney really representing?

Christopher now has to wait even longer for his brother to return to their family. He looks happy, healthy, and cared for. The same as Hunter would look once returned.
The battle continues to bring Hunter home! So thankful for this lil guy in photos – but the family is still longing for Hunter!

ziegler baby Hunter 3 4 2018

Hunter would love to be with his parents and brother, but Child Protective Services continues to discriminate against his parents and their disability. Photo source – Bringing the Ziegler boys home to their parents Facebook page.

Disabled Attorney Advocates for Disabled Parents

The article continues with the story of an attorney, herself disabled, who fights for parents with disabilities in their battle to get their children back from Child Protective Services:

For Carrie Ann Lucas of Windsor, Colorado, these issues are both personal and professional. Lucas has mitochondrial myopathy, a type of muscular dystrophy that requires the use of a power wheelchair and ventilator assistance to breathe.

She is hard of hearing and has low vision. Lucas is an attorney and has represented parents with disabilities for nearly two decades. She currently works for the state agency that oversees court-appointed attorneys.

Lucas is the mother of four children, all of whom also have disabilities. She has adopted each of them from foster care.

Despite the state deeming her capable to adopt four times, Lucas has been referred to CPS on numerous occasions, and says she has “lost track” of the exact number.

One time, for example, her daughter’s school filed a report with CPS because the girl’s ponytail was “too tight.”

Other times, Lucas was reported to CPS for neglecting her children because she wanted them to be independent and autonomous, such as requiring her teenage daughter to drive her own wheelchair from the school bus to the door of her home.


Carrie Ann Lucas, founder and Executive Director of Disabled Parents Rights. Photo source.

Every referral to CPS increases the risk of further action, even if the report was based on senseless allegations. “If people have multiple referrals, then every single one gets investigated,” Lucas says.

These investigations can be traumatizing for families, especially for children who came from foster care and have long involvements with CPS, like Lucas’ children.

Lucas’ first negative encounter began nearly two decades ago when she set out to adopt her niece, a process that lasted 16 months. It took a judge threatening to put the CPS worker in contempt of court if she didn’t immediately place the child with Lucas.

Lucas says the CPS worker told the judge, “There is no way that a handicapped woman can take care of a handicapped child. We’re going to be picking up the child within two weeks.”

“Well, we’re 18 years down the road, and she’s still with me,” Lucas says.

Lucas’ experience motivated her to attend law school and become an attorney. “I thought, if this is happening to me, and I have a master’s degree [and] I take care of other people’s children all day long, what’s happening to every other parent?”

Parents with Disabilities Face Social Workers Who Are Untrained

Disabled Parents Rights-logo-150x150

The Pacific Standard article also notes how CPS stereotypes parents with disabilities and that social workers are not trained to work with people who have disabilities.

Once parents with disabilities are reported to CPS, they face pervasive stereotypes that often have devastating consequences. CPS has an obligation to act, which often means hiring experts to guide them.

Yet [Nicole Brisson of Sage Haven Associates, Inc.] claims many experts have little to no training or experience working with people with disabilities, and are unable to adequately evaluate parents and measure progress.

“Courts do not realize this, err on the side of caution, and move to terminate rights often without evidence that the parent is unfit.”

Bias toward parents with disabilities transcends all disability types—physical, sensory, intellectual, and psychiatric.

However, Lucas says certain segments of the disability community experience worse treatment.

“I think [parents with physical disabilities] get a lot of referrals, but we don’t get a lot of cases,” she says, referring to the difference between doing a welfare check and opening a full-fledged investigation. For parents with intellectual disabilities and psychiatric disabilities, referrals often turn into cases.”

…The rights of parents with disabilities and the rights of children are not mutually exclusive, yet in ensuring the rights of children, the rights of parents with disabilities can often go by the wayside.

Ensuring that disabled parents have the opportunity to raise their children and are provided support, if needed, benefits both parents and children—the onus now falls on Child Protective Services agencies to adequately protect both children and parents with disabilities.

Read the full article at psmag.com.