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Roadmap for Ending Discrimination against Parents with Disabilities Applauded by Disability Community

Monday, October 15, 2012

New Government Report Tells Success Stories, Offers Advice for Ending Discrimination  

Oct. 15, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC –  A new report released by the National Council on Disability (NCD) September 27 has received accolades from disability organizations and people with disabilities across the United States. NCD’s report “Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children, “ the first of its kind issued by a federal agency, examines the discrimination faced by the more than four million parents with disabilities in raising their families. Estimates indicate 6.1 million children in the U.S. have parents with disabilities. This amounts to nearly 1 in 10 American children.

In the report, NCD reveals that parents with disabilities are the only distinct community of Americans who must struggle to retain custody of their children. Removal rates run as high as 80 percent among parents with a psychiatric or intellectual disability. It also shines a spotlight on the hidden hardships faced by parents struggling to keep their children, adopt children, or even access reproductive assistance. 

“Rocking the Cradle” ends on a hopeful note by sharing parental success stories and making recommendations for ways state and federal government can correct unjust practices. 

Support from the disability community has affirmed the overdue need for NCD’s report and its findings:  

  • Stephen Bennett, President & CEO of United Cerebral Palsy said Rocking the Cradle “highlights an awful truth: parents with disabilities are facing tremendous challenges and discrimination as they try to raise their families. The situation is appalling, and action needs to be taken.”
  • Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc said NCD’s 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are treated unjustly when it comes to their rights as parents, and far too many families are broken apart by outdated and discriminatory practices.”
  • Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, stated: “Blind people often find their fitness as parents questioned solely on the basis of blindness, and in some cases misconceptions about their capabilities result in the children of blind parents being removed from their homes by the state.  Situations like this are not only heart-wrenching for the parents, but also violate federal law and their constitutional rights.”

Stories of real parents with disabilities inform and personalize the broader issues covered in the report. Among them:  

  • Kevin and Karen, adoptive parents to Dominika, their five year-old daughter with Apert syndrome. Karen is a wheelchair user and Kevin was born with hemophilia, and was diagnosed with HIV in high school. When adopting, Kevin and Karen bypassed international adoption because most countries deny prospective parents with disabilities.  They live in Chicago.
  • Carrie is a single mother of four adopted children, all of whom also have disabilities.  She is a power wheelchair user who is ventilator dependent.  Carrie has been inappropriately referred to Child Protective Services on numerous occasions. She lives with her family in Denver.  
  • Rebecca (pseudonym used to protect confidentiality), a mother with an intellectual disability, gave birth to a daughter six years ago.  Because her daughter was premature she had trouble feeding and was eventually sent to live in a foster home.  Rebecca has undergone several parenting assessments since then all with positive results.  She has worked full-time at the same job for 17 years and has owned her home for 15 years.  Rebecca is available to available to speak to reporters with her advocate. The case is still being litigated. She lives in Connecticut.

“Currently, every state allows disability to be used when determining parental rights in family or dependency court without additional cause or concern. Whether actions are taken at the state or federal level the need to correct this unfair bias could not be more urgent or clear,” said Janice Lehrer-Stein, Vice Chair of the National Council on Disability, the independent federal agency that issued the report.  “The positive response to “Rocking the Cradle” from disability groups, parents with disabilities and service agencies from across the nation confirms the need we saw to do this report and further bolsters our commitment to ensuring the rights of parents with disabilities and their families.” 

About the report: “Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children” explores the pervasive prejudices faced by parents with disabilities by exposing the disparate treatment often encountered by parents with disabilities and their children within court and service systems and offers draft model state and federal statutory language to correct the discrimination faced by parents with disabilities in the United States. 

NCD thanks Through the Looking Glass, the NIDRR-funded National Center for Parents with Disabilities and Their Families, for their valuable assistance in writing sections of this report. Their insight and guidance during the research and drafting of “Rocking the Cradle” was instrumental in its development and completion.

Full report is available on NCD’s website at:  /publications/2012/Sep272012/

An official website of the National Council on Disability