State of Change



ACROSS THE UNITED STATES, 4.1 million parents with disabilities are capably and lovingly raising 6.1 million children. Too many of them are also living in fear—fear rooted not in doubts about their own parenting abilities but in the fact that legally sanctioned prejudice may rob them of the chance to prove those abilities. They are all too aware that minuscule mishaps non-disabled parents would seldom think twice about—fumbling during a first diaper change or sending a child to school with a too-tight ponytail—could result in a call to Social Services,72 and they know that once such a call is made, they are too often subject to the legally sanctioned biases of social workers and legal professionals, with too few legal safeguards in place to shield them from devastating consequences. Meanwhile, countless other individuals with disabilities dream of becoming mothers and fathers but know that their access to adoption, foster care, and assisted reproductive technologies will likely be severely curtailed.

While those who resist such changes will claim that a child is never removed due to parental disability unless there is a nexus between the disability and some predicted or manifested harm to the child, the fact is that we know this is a policy fairytale. Social workers and lawyers, judges and the press, are all too quick to tacitly agree that the disability of a parent must necessarily cause some harm to the child, now or in the future. The requirement of nexus, even where explicitly included in the law, is rarely enforced.

Of the use of disability as an admissible factor in assessing current or potential parental fitness, Robert L. Hayman concludes, "The formal classification should be abolished as a basis for state interference with the parent-child relationship. The classification has no empirical foundation, and its political roots are not ones to be proud of. The classification results, meanwhile, in a schematic processing of the labeled parent's claim to family, reducing individualized adjudications to formalities and foregone conclusions. In the end, the scheme makes us all a little less human."73

Let us waste no time in answering this call to action. Let us do the work that is necessary to make parents and prospective parents with disabilities less vulnerable to legalized discrimination, to make children safer from being removed from or denied loving homes, and to make us all a little more human.

  • 72. National Council on Disability, 2012
  • 73. Hayman, 1990