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Ensuring Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children - Rocking the Cradle

  • Publish Date : 2012/10/23 - (Rev. 2016/11/05)
  • Author : National Council on Disability


Policy study provides comprehensive overview of factors that support and obstruct Americans with all kinds of disabilities from exercising their fundamental right to begin and maintain families.

Main Document

On Thursday, September 27, the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency, released "Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children" - a groundbreaking policy study, infused with real life stories of parents with disabilities, to provide a comprehensive overview of factors that support and obstruct Americans with all kinds of disabilities from exercising their fundamental right to begin and maintain families.

NCD is a nonpartisan, independent federal agency made up of 15 Presidentially-appointed Council Members and supporting staff that advises the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policy, programs and services. In our federal advisory role, we engage regularly with community groups, non-profits and charity organizations. NCD is not a non-profit. As an independent federal agency, NCD does not represent the views of any political party.

"Twenty-two years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act with an increasing number of people with disabilities taking advantage of increased protections to receive an education and go to work, parents with disabilities continue to be the only distinct community that have to fight to retains - and sometimes gain - custody of their own children without cause," said NCD Council Member, Ari Ne'eman. "Currently, the U.S. legal system is not protecting the rights of parents with disabilities and their children. Two-thirds of state child welfare laws allow courts to determine a parent is unfit solely on the basis of a parent's disability. In fact, every state allows disability as a consideration when determining the best interest of a child in family or dependency court. Whether actions are taken at the state or federal level - as an amendment or a new law - the need to correct this unfair bias could not be more urgent or clear."

About the report: "Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children " explores the pervasive prejudices faced by parents with disabilities by exposing the disparate treatment often encountered by parents with disabilities and their children within court and service systems and offers draft model state and federal statutory language to correct the discrimination faced by parents with disabilities in the United States.

Key findings:

  • Estimates indicate 6.1 million children in the U.S. have parents with disabilities - Nearly 1 in 10, almost 10% of the population.
  • Parents with disabilities are the only community of Americans who must struggle to retain custody of their children.
  • - Removal rates of parents with psychiatric disabilities is as high as 70 - 80 %
  • - Removal rates of parents with intellectual disabilities is as high as 80%
  • - Extremely high removal rates and loss of parental rights for parents with sensory or physical disabilities.
  • Parents with disabilities are more likely to lose custody of their children after divorce.
  • Prospective parents with disabilities have more difficulty when it comes to accessing reproductive health care such as assisted reproductive technologies.
  • Prospective parents with disabilities face significant barriers to adopting children.
  • In the face of numerous obstacles, hope remains with several programs that show promise, long-term sustainable impact and potential for replication. With more funding, model programs currently serving American parents with disabilities could easily grow and develop nationwide to better serve this often overlooked population.

NCD thanks: Through the Looking Glass, the NIDRR-funded National Center for Parents with Disabilities and Their Families, for their valuable assistance in writing sections of this report. Their insight and guidance during the research and drafting of "Rocking the Cradle" was instrumental in its development and completion.

Robyn Powell - Attorney Advisor, National Council on Disability - Washington, DC - Robyn Powell is the principle author of "Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children " and NCD's Attorney Advisor. Previously, Robyn was the Disability Rights Program Manager at the Equal Rights Center, where she was responsible for developing and coordinating disability-focused education and outreach, research, investigations and testing. Before that, she served as Assistant Director for Policy and Advocacy for the Disability Policy Consortium, in Boston, MA, where she was responsible for a wide variety of programmatic, administrative, advocacy and outreach activities for the state-wide disability rights organization. Robyn also previously served as Staff Attorney for Greater Boston Legal Services and was a legal intern for both NCD and the Disability Law Center, the Massachusetts Protection & Advocacy agency. Robyn holds a B.S. Degree in Social Work from Bridgewater State University and a J.D. from Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

Janice Lehrer-Stein - Vice Chair, National Council on Disability - San Francisco, CA - Janice Lehrer-Stein is the vice chair of NCD and a parent with a disability. In addition, she is a member of the Board of Directors of Medical Research Charities - a national federation of research focused non-profits, which solicits and directs employee donations to the Combined Federal and State Campaigns. She is a National Trustee of the Foundation Fighting Blindness and was Chair of the 2010 and 2011 Dining in the Dark dinner in San Francisco, which increased awareness about people with blindness and low vision. A board member of Disability Rights Advocates, a non-profit law firm working to improve access and secure the civil rights of individuals with disabilities, Lehrer-Stein holds a Juris Doctor degree from University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale. She was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in 1982 and is legally blind.

Ari Ne'eman - Appointed member, National Council on Disability - Silver Spring, MD - Ari Ne'eman is the President and co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, an advocacy organization run by and for Autistic adults seeking to increase the representation of Autistic people across society. He serves as Policy and Program Evaluation Committee Chair for the Council. In his policy work, Ari has worked on a wide variety of disability rights related legislation relating to education, transition, employment, rights protection and other areas. Ari also served as a public member of the Inter-Agency Autism Coordinating Committee, a Federal advisory committee that coordinates all efforts within the Department of Health and Human Services concerning autism, from April 2010-2012. Previously, Ari served as Vice Chair of the New Jersey Adults with Autism Task Force, where he represented autistic adults in reviewing the state's autism services. He also served on the New Jersey Special Education Review Commission, where he authored a minority report on the topic of aversives, restraint and seclusion.

Full report is available on NCD's website at: www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/Sep272012/

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