Editorial: Research, support needed

Nov. 30, 2012 @ 01:26 PM

Prejudice against disabled parents is still with us more than two decades after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law.
For parents with disabilities, the news is not breaking. A recent report by the National Council on Disability does bring forth several questions when it comes to how child welfare officials are carrying out their duties.
Determining that a child is better off in an environment other than with a parent is a challenge unto itself. Factoring in a parent with a disability complicates the equation, both in assuring the disability is not a factor and confirming the disability is a factor.
The report estimates 6.1 million children in the U.S. have disabled parents. For parents with psychiatric or intellectual disabilities, removal rates are as high as 80 percent.
Disabled parents who divorce, according to the report, are also more likely to lose custody.
For many disabled parents, life with a child is a life looking over the shoulder to see if welfare services are coming. Many say the result is becoming a better parent.
For a number of child welfare workers, the problems don’t always exist because of a parent’s disability. Bad parenting, in other words, knows no prejudice.
The report advocates better research so assessment standards can be improved. While the report is hailed as the best to date on the subject, more information is wanted on how specific disabilities affect parenting.
We’re in agreement with Christine Waters, an attorney with Legal Services of Central New York. She said assumptions are made that parents who are disabled can’t parent, and she deemed that “bad for society and heartbreaking for families.”
“The easy thing is to terminate the parental rights,” Waters said. “We need to do the right thing, not the easy thing.”
The right thing beyond the home is more research and more support for families. Bad parents, unfortunately, are aplenty but prejudice toward the disabled must be eliminated.
American families are more broken apart than ever. Whether the parents are disabled or not, all measures to keep them with their children need to be exhausted.