Friday, May 4, 2012

Yes, people with disabilities can be parents. Why is that shocking?

Authorities are threatening to take away the baby of a Canadian couple who both have cerebral palsy unless he receives round-the-clock care. It's a mind-boggling story, and I'll share it here in case you haven't yet heard about it:

Maricyl Palisoc and her partner, Charles Wilton, are the proud parents of William, one month old. They live in Ontario. Before he was even born, CTV News reported, a social worker at the hospital called the local Children's Aid Society (CAS). CAS decided the child was going to need 24-hour care because they didn't believe the couple were capable of caring for William. News reports say they threatened to take him away unless the couple found an "able-bodied" person to offer 24-hour care.

Maricyl and Charles agreed and now have that help, but they are fighting for the right to take care of their own baby as they choose. Would you want a full-time attendant in your home tending to your new baby because you weren't deemed fit? Right. Today, Maricyl and Charles are meeting with the CAS to present a care plan they've created with the Coalition for Persons with Disabilities. I can't even imagine how they must be feeling.

It just doesn't seem possible that this is happening in 2012.  Sadly, I think it shows just how deep-rooted misperceptions are of people with disabilities.

Like any people with cerebral palsy, Maricyl and Charles are affected differently by the condition. Maricyl has certain issues with hand mobility, though she can change diapers, breastfeed, and do the things moms do. Charles uses a power wheelchair. Both of their speech is affected; neither is cognitively impaired. They already receive some help from care workers. Seemingly, the couple is capable of handling an infant, and as William gets older and new challenges arise, they will deal.

Lest you think this is a Canadian thang, you might recall the story of Kaney O'Neill, a mom in her 30s from Illinois who's a quadriplegic. Her ex sued for custody of their son, Aiden, when he was 10 weeks old. While Kaney's issues necessitate having full-time help—she has minimal use of her hands and can't feel anything from the waist down—the bottom line was she was fit to mother her child. She won the custody battle, and now has a live-in caregiver, a service dog and adaptive equipment, per ABC News. "He adapts to my abilities," she's said of Aiden. "It's amazing. If he wants me to read a book, he brings it, puts it up on my tray."

As for Maricyl and Charles's situation, I am astounded by the misdirected efforts of those Canadian authorities. The agency should spend its energies protecting kids with drug-addicted parents and others who are in unfortunate situations; little William is not. Now, I don't know Maricyl and Charles but they seem like perfectly rational, reasonable, smart human beings. Both seem to possess those key things necessary to be a competent parent: Dedication. Common sense. LOVE.

But the bureaucrats see just one thing: a diagnosis of cerebral palsy.

What will it take for the world to see the ability in disability? The question haunts me. I desperately hope that as Max and all of our kids get older, perceptions will change.

"I'm disappointed," Kaney O'Neill told the news, "that the courts allow for someone to question your ability to have custody based on your disability."

UPDATE After the couple and agency met, per a CBC News update, the Children's Aid Society is backing off and is no longer threatening to remove William from his parents.

Image: screen shot from CBS news video


  1. It sounds like a 'visible' disabilty is the focus of CAS questioning this couple's parenting abilities. If the parents had chronic illness I do not think their parenting ability would be questioned.

    I have rheumatoid arthritis and have limited fine motor skills as well as limited mobility on some days. I also have 3 kids under 5 - no one suggested I cannot care for a newborn. I just make sure clothes, strollers, etc are accessible for me. On bad days I get help. Why can this family not do the same?

  2. I assume you meant that neither has an intellectual disability. If that were not the case this would be a whole other thing the studies that I have read on intellectual disabilities and parenting raise troubling issues. Also this has little to do with the woman in Illinois. In custody battles any and all abilities and inabilities are fodder for challenge. All typically abled people face the same need to prove their ability to parent. In the situation in Canada only the disabled are facing this situation prior to any specific issue that would warrant involvement from the government. That is just plain wrong.

  3. Angela, good point, a chronic illness wouldn't have raised eyebrows. Annie, yes, parents pull out any and all ammo when they're fighting custody battles—but the Kaney case still played to the perception that those with physical disabilities are less capable than others.

  4. Just as we see it reasonable for parents with severe physical disabilities to be good parents if they get the proper support, parents with intellectual disabilities can also provide a warm and loving home for children if they get the proper support. Without the outside help, both types of families fall apart. Let's not write anyone off as having the ability to provide a stable, loving home for a child. It's not easy for either kind of family, but who ever said raising kids would be easy?

  5. News just in. CAS has relented and they can keep their baby! Great news.

    And... people with intellectual disabilities, with the proper support (as needed) can and do parent as well.


  6. I found this appalling.My husband has Spastic diplegia CP and is an amzing dad to Andrew who is 8 and Brandon who is 6.Though he cannot play football with them or teach them how to ride a bike he is the one who helps them with their homework and plays endless games of Sorry with them.He has taught them respect for everyone,determention and the power of dreaming.Maricyl and Charles will raise an amazing son.

  7. I think it's wrong to threaten to take away their child. Every family has difficulties, some physical, some emotional.. yet we try and cope. This family should be given a chance...

  8. Is this couple dependant upon the Canadian version of our SS Disability? If so, then anyone who has ever filed for Disability benefits knows you must prove that you are unable to take care of yourself. There are different levels of care you are able to offer YOURSELF, so, it is easy to see how the concern is there regarding the ability to care for their child.

    I have not researched this case so I'm not saying that is what's going on here, but the other article I read states that this couple was already receiving a few hours a day of home care before their child was born to help both of them with their daily living so it would be easy to see where Able Living and CAS, and CPD would be concerned for a child.

    If nobody said or did anything even though this couple already needed help then this child was found neglected, injured, dead, or abused a few months down the road, everyone would be frothing on about how the state should have stepped in from birth.

  9. Aren't these the same people who took Ayn away from her father saying that he couldn't parent two autistic children as a single parent? Isn't Canada the same country that is denying permanent status to a family because their child is autistic? It seems to me that these so-called social-workers need some social reality themselves.

    I also don't think the two cases are the same. One is a nasty custody dispute between parents where they use everything to try to garner control of the child and the other is the STATE coming in and threatening you. Very very very different.

  10. This is shocking even "able-bodied" people have things they cannot do would CPS threaten to take their children away because of it... I THINK NOT! Hopefully my 'I Am Disabled' campaign will get rid of some of the discrimination against "disabled" people. You can read about my I Am Disabled campaign here

  11. Nisha, your campaign rocks!

    Elise, I'm not saying the stories are the same—obviously, one is a custody battle, one is government gone overboard. I'm saying they are both rooted in prejudice.

    Look at it this way: Would a man ever try to use the fact that a mother is a lefty against her in a custody battle? Um, of course not—that's because it has nothing to do with her ability to mother. If society thought that having a physical disability like cerebral palsy or being a paraplegic didn't interfere with parenting, it wouldn't come up in a custody suit. Like being a lefty, it would be irrelevant. But given the fact that many DO think that people who are differently-abled are LESS abled, Kaney O'Neill's husband felt confident using her disabilities as his main argument in the custody battle.

  12. Ellen,

    Are you stating that it is always prejudice for one's disabilities to be brought up in regards to their ability to parent a child?

    There are cases where a parent's medical condition DOES interfere with being able to raise a child if they do not have an adequate support system. Is the State or even the other parent (in the case of divorce) supposed to ignore this or should they ensure that an adequate support system is there for the child's benefit?

    If Max where an adult right now, and he had a wife who had the same abilities as he does, would you be 100% comfortable leaving them alone with their child? Would you want to ensure that they COULD properly provide care for your grandchild without you there? Would you admit it if they COULDN'T?

    You state above that "both are rooted in prejudice". Are you meaning that ANY person who is differently-abled should have automatic rights to custody and to question otherwise is prejudice or is their a point where you find that there is a need to ensure proper care can be given?

  13. I think at a higher level and talk on a lower one, so it can be frustrating for me.

  14. I am disabled and so is my child's mom and I went through the same thing just about. We didn't get married and had shared custody. She had attendants help her at home but I raised her on my own. Long story made short, We raised a wonderful daughter, who was in the top 10 academically at her high school, involved in sports, student leadership, she worked in the community and started a program for disadvantaged teens, won countless academic awards and is now attending a top research university in the US. So give them their child and let them raise him and trust me, the kid will adapt to his parents limitations quickly and be a better human being for it.


Thanks for sharing!

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