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Disabled parents often have to fight for child custody

Photo of Karen Lavin

According to a report from the National Council on Disability, a federal agency, disabled parents all over the country are having difficulty exercising their right to raise their own children. For example, a mother in Chicago had to fight for 18 months to retain custody of her son because she was quadriplegic. One couple had their infant daughter taken away by the state two days after birth, not because they had done anything to demonstrate they should lose child custody, but because they were both blind.

Another woman with cerebral palsy ran into difficulties with an adoption agency, which told her she might not be fit to raise a child because of her medical condition. The adoption agency raised the question of fitness after the woman had already paid adoption fees.

The report states that such cases are clear violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990 to protect the rights of disabled persons in the U. S.

In particular, parents with disabilities find it more difficult to get child custody in a divorce. Many experts criticize the practice of denying disabled parents custody not just on legal grounds, but question whether it is really in the best interests of the children. Children benefit from stability, and it makes little difference whether the parent who provides that stability has a disability.

The state is especially likely to take away children in instances where the parent has an intellectual or psychiatric disability. States remove children from their homes in as many as 80 percent of such cases. A preferred approach to taking the children away from the parents would be providing them with more support. This would help fulfill the interests of both the parents and the children.

Source: Akron Beacon Journal Online, "Disabled parents face bias, custody battle, report says," David Crary, Nov. 24, 2012

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