State of Change

Additional Recommended Practices

Additional Recommended Practices

WHILE THIS DOCUMENT has focused on the particular and pressing need for holistic and progressive state legislative changes to combat legalized discrimination against parents with disabilities, other innovations are equally needed and can also be accomplished at the state level. For instance, social workers and other professionals key to the child welfare and custody systems must receive more education on the rights of this population and the reality versus the stereotypes of their parenting capabilities. The child welfare system, which has been particularly resistant to legislative reform in this field, must surrender the false premise of "rival interests" in child welfare cases.68 Requiring that this issue be integrated into law and social welfare undergraduate and graduate programs certified by the State, along with state mandates for regular, required training for working social workers and attorneys in the child welfare, and dependency and family courts from a source that can provide legal, clinical, and cultural expertise could substantially lessen the system's tendency to fall back on this trope. In turn, the likelihood of support without fear of prejudice could encourage parents with disabilities to ask for help from the State more often—a great boon to parents and their children alike. In the current climate, parents with disabilities often hesitate to reach out for needed supports due to fear of losing their children.

Each state should prioritize funding free trainings for tribes, tribal ICWA workers, attorneys, the governing body, and other key child welfare/ICWA personnel. The State has the power to do this. Such training should concern the rights of parents with disabilities in the state child welfare system, best practices for child welfare agencies working with families where a parent has a disability, and the special tools tribes have at their disposal to challenge the state when it falls short of complying with the law.69 It is quite possible that the State can foster this through prioritizing grants of Court Improvement Project (CIP) monies to local and tribal courts, who will work in conjunction with disability law programs.

States should seek to increase their capacity to provide best practice services to families where a parent is disabled. This could be accomplished by creation of regional organizations modeled on Through the Looking Glass, a Berkeley-based agency that at one point offered free, nationwide legal expertise, non-pathological in-home early intervention services, and adapted baby-care equipment and assessments for parents with disabilities. The legal and practical supports such centers could offer create the ability for the state to comply with the law and with best practice.

There is precedent for federal and state funding for such endeavors. See, for instance, Vermont's Green Mountain 360 project, which provided practical and legal supports to parents with intellectual disabilities and was funded first by Project 360 of the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, a program of the Administration for Community Living of the Department of Health and Human Services, then by the state of Vermont.70 Australia provides an example of how a large and diverse nation can formalize and systematize such capacity. Its Healthy Start program supports parents with intellectual disabilities, is available in every state and territory.71

  • 68. Schweik and Callow, 2014
  • 69. Callow, 2013
  • 70. National Council on Disability, 2012
  • 71. National Council on Disability, 2012