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.


  1. Everyone has those rights. In my opinion the DCF should focus more on parents who are abusing their children, not parents with disabilities who have the right support system. Plus it seems to forget the fact that these women with intellectual disabilities may very well be having children because of sexual assault. They also may be in committed relationships or marriages but the possibility they are not can't be ignored. I'm glad it ended well in this case. And I hope Max marries and has children far in the future if he wants.

  2. Hi,

    I publish an Australian website on disability news and opinion at:

    and was wondering if it might be okay to republish this article and any other relevant ones on our website, with appropriate credit and a link back of course.

    It would help spread your work and gain a wider audience for you.

    Hope we can work together and I am quite happy to publish other articles you may have written that aren't on your blog also.


  3. As a certified teacher, I receive regular training by the state (WA) on child abuse and neglect issues, and I also train professionals on the subject. The law requires us to question why a disabled person has a child because it also goes back to the Buck v Bell SCOTUS ruling, where the 9:1 decision on disabled people having children should be forbidden at all costs.

    As a disabled person myself, there is zero chance of me having a relationship or a child. Although it violates ADA, but it is what society wants. We would have to argue to the Supreme Court that a disabled person has the same right to be a parent as any other person, even when other people abuse their kids.

    Adaptations are possible, but certain adaptations may also be considered illegal as well. A child sitting in my lap now is considered sexual, because I am a man and the thought is men have no control over sexual issues. I personally would not do it now with the climate now.

    The specific WA law here is RCW 26.09.191 which requires DFS to determine whether the person has a disability and it is also used (one section of it) to terminate the rights of disabled people.

    1. DFS requires zero adaptations in parenting. I was told by CPS about 21 years ago that I never should have children, but when I argued I'm a teacher The worker told me teachers have physical and mental support from the other staff, where the parents would be alone.

      Last summer I had a cop at my door with a complaint that I was around children in my neighborhood, where the caller was convinced I was out to harm kids. The cop was informed I am licensed as a teacher and it was my job to interact with kids on some level. Cop was told I had kids in my lap as well. I told him it is now sexual abuse for men to have a child in my lap. Cop did confirm that and agreed with me.

  4. This must be very difficult for Sara to go through. If there were some way to provide parents with intellectual disabilities the tools they need, this would happen less often.

  5. This is a hard topic. Having a married relatives who are intellectually disabled. They had two children who have been removed from the home because of sexual abuse within the home. The process to remove the children took so long the damage done will take the rest of their lives to correct. Could this have been availed? I do not know. This couple live in another state from me. Did the family have a enough resources to keep this from happening? Looking back, NO. To Sara and others may your community of resources be very large and very caring for the parents and the children.

    1. That's a terrible story... Amen to good and plenty resources.

  6. I clicked on the link to read the article
    Guardianship of the child was given to the grandmother, not Sara
    While every parent would want their child to have a loving caring partner someday, the idea of my daughter Addie having unprotected intercourse with someone using her for sex makes me ill
    The idea of Addie (significant intellectual disability as well as serious medical issues) bearing a child is too much to contemplate
    Sara may have been well intentioned toward her daughter but her intellectual deficit did not bode well for either of them--a missed feeding in a baby under 6 pounds is serious, leaving an infant unattended on a changing table is dangerous
    Sara is reported to prefer not to read--who will read to the child
    The foster family selected by the child services sounds inappropriate and unsafe--too many injuries easily explained away
    I sincerely hope I will not be reading about something terrible happening to little Dana someday--she deserves better
    Ellen, I understand your wanting Max to have it all --I also want that for Addie but I know it can never be

    1. I had the same thoughts about the foster family. As for Sara, the article made it very clear she does need support but her mother is willing to be there. It's also clear she has the determination and desire. As for our children, we can obviously only speak for ourselves but I want what will make Max happy and what he will can handle when he is older. It is impossible to say now what that will be.

  7. A 10 year old is not fit to be a parent. Why would someone with the mind of a 10 year old be fit enough to be a parent?

    1. That is a pretty narrow mindset, Anon. With good support, it could be possible.

  8. I believe the Dept of Child and Families is contravening the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Are you familiar with Inclusion International and their focus on human rights (www.inclusion-international.org)? Providing everyone with the proper supports not builds a stronger society, it is simply the right thing to do.

  9. Hi - sorry for delay as I didn't get an email notifying me of your reply. My email is dale AT mydisabilitymatters.com.au Look forward to hearing. Thanks. Dale.


Thanks for sharing!

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