State of Change

Key Findings and Recommendations

Key Findings and Recommendations

The United States Supreme Court "has avowed continuously and with conviction that parents' rights to the care and custody of their children are protected under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment."21 This claim has been reiterated and upheld in a long history of Supreme Court rulings, including Meyer v. Nebraska (1923), Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), Stanley v. Illinois (1972), and Troxel v. Granville (2000). Further, it is widely recognized that it is in the best interest of children to remain with their biological parents unless doing so would cause clear and present danger.

Our findings indicate that neither the legal rights of disabled parents nor the best interests of their children are being adequately served by existing legislation. The California legislature should reassert public authority over broadband network deployment by repealing SB1161, which places some limits on such public oversight, and should adopt legislation that establishes enforceable fiber deployment benchmarks that apply to all providers.

In the US, 6.2 percent of parents raising children under the age of 18 identify as having a disability, and almost 10 percent of children under 18 are being raised by a disabled parent.22 These percentages are higher in populations most often over-represented in child welfare systems: 13.9 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native parents and 8.8 percent of African American parents have a disability, while 6 percent of white, 5.5 percent Latino/ Hispanic, and 3.3 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander parents identify as disabled.23 Thus, the effects of discriminatory legislation are more widespread than many realize.

Studies have shown that parental disability does not negatively affect children's development or outcomes24—and may in fact have a positive impact. Children of parents with physical, sensory, psychiatric, and intellectual or developmental disabilities may exhibit increased levels of empathy and emotional awareness, and adult children of parents with disabilities overwhelmingly report feeling that their parents' disabilities led to positive outcomes, including greater compassion and tolerance, awareness of disability oppression and empowerment, understanding of civil rights, enhanced resourcefulness and problem-solving skills, and achieving stronger family bonds.25 As such, we can see that laws discriminating against the right of disabled individuals to raise children are rooted in prejudice about their capabilities, without taking into account the reality of life as a disabled parent or as the child of a disabled parent.

Our findings reveal that the best remedy for the current legal situation of parents with disabilities will take place at the state level.26 We offer this document in the hope that it will lead all states that have not yet done so, and most particularly the 33 that list disability as grounds for termination of parental rights, to enact legislation based on the model legislation provided in Rocking the Cradle, as states including Colorado, Idaho, and South Carolina have already successfully done.27 It is our belief that the legislation adopted must be comprehensive in nature, encompassing all disabilities and applying to both dependency and family law as well as adoption law.

In addition to sweeping legal reform, we advocate additional supports for both those parents with disabilities who may require them and the professionals who work with them. After a detailed examination of current and proposed legislation, we will consider the possibility of offering legal and practical support for parents with disabilities through regional centers modeled on Berkeley's Through the Looking Glass as well as the need for increased training for social workers and legal professionals who may come in contact with disabled parents.

Children of parents with physical, sensory, psychiatric, and intellectual or developmental disabilities may exhibit increased levels of empathy and emotional awareness, and adult children of parents with disabilities overwhelmingly report feeling that their parents' disabilities led to positive outcomes, including greater compassion and tolerance, awareness of disability oppression and empowerment, understanding of civil rights, enhanced resourcefulness and problem-solving skills, and achieving stronger family bonds.

  • 21. National Council on Disability, 2012
  • 22. Kaye, 2011
  • 23. Kaye, 2011
  • 24. Shade, 1998; Preston, 2011
  • 25. Marsh, 1998; Collentine, 2005; Lightfoot et al, 2010; Eden et al, 2017; etc
  • 26. Schweik and Callow, 2014
  • 27. CO HB 18-1104, 2018; ID Code Ann. 16-1601, 16-2001(2), 32- 717(5), 32-1005(3), 2004; SC HB 3538/SB 291, 2017