Tuesday, February 16, 2016
A mother with intellectual disability has her baby taken away
Mothers with a disability can have their parental rights terminated. Sounds like something in a far away, backwards country, right? Actually, it's a law on the books in 37 states in this country, as I discovered when I caught up on magazine reading this weekend. New York's Who Knows Best told the story of Sara, a young woman in Massachusetts with an intellectual disability whose baby girl was taken away from her.
Sara and her mother, Kim, planned to jointly care for the child. But when authorities from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) came to the hospital to watch Sara handling her infant, they observed that she didn't do a good swaddle with a receiving blanket. They learned that she'd missed a feeding because she didn't know how to tell time on a clock with hands. They thought she didn't hold her child safely. And so, the baby went to a foster home.
It's a troubling read, especially if you have a child with ID. Similarly disturbing is the report the article cites, Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children, published by the National Council on Disability in 2012. "These parents are the only distinct community of Americans who must struggle to retain custody of their children," it states. The removal rate for parents with intellectual disability is 40 to 80 percent.
A DCF social worker who monitored Sara's visits with her child would time her feeding, diapering and soothing her. As is often the case with people who have an intellectual disability, Sara needs extra time to figure things out. "I can't learn in five minutes. It just doesn't fit in my book," she says. And then she notes, oh so astutely, "They judge even before they read the book—instead of reading the beginning, they go straight to the end."
Sara filed a discrimination complaint against DCF with the U.S. Department of Justice. Ultimately, the presiding judge granted guardianship to her mother. It's a happy ending for her, but not for many other parents out there with ID or physical disabilities. In recent years, cases have made the news of authorities attempting to remove children from parents with cerebral palsy and quadriplegia.
With the right supports, as necessary, plenty of people with physical and intellectual disability can navigate the responsibilities of parenthood. Their hearts, however, need no enabling; they are as capable as any of us of loving a child. When you consider the headlines about abused children neglected by the system, it's mind-boggling to consider the scrutiny to which people with disabilities are subject to.
I don't know if Max will one day marry. I hope he does, if he wants to. I hope he has a baby, if he wants to. And I hope that nobody will interfere with his rights to live and love as he wants to.
But I wonder.