This week, Kristina Chew wrote about Toronto-area couple Maricyl Palisoc and Charles Wilton, who were fighting to keep their newborn baby William at home with them. Palisoc and Wilton both have cerebral palsy, “a group of disorders that can involve brain and nervous system functions such as movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking” and the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) was insisting that they have 24-hour assistance from an “able-bodied” caregiver if they wanted to keep William at home.
Differently-Abled, Not Unfit
Every human being has strengths and limitations. The specific limitations that come with cerebral palsy are not necessarily any more relevant to someone’s ability to parent than the limitations that other parents may have. Earlier this week, Palisoc told CBC News that having cerebral palsy will not keep her from doing what she needs to do for her child.
We know that we need help, but we know that we are the best thing for our boy right now. We both wanted to be parents and now we are, and we don’t want do give anyone control of our family.
Ryan Machete, a program coordinator with the Coalition for Persons with Disabilities confirmed that Palisoc and Wilton are able to care for their baby. He said Palisoc is able to take care of the necessities of caring for an infant, including changing diapers and breastfeeding. Although his organization has been providing support for the couple since their baby was born, he doesn’t see any reason to spend $2,000 per week on an able-bodied caregiver when they are able to take care of the infant themselves.
Ellen Seidman, the mother of a child with cerebral palsy, blogs at Love that Max. She told Care2 that the treatment of Palisoc and Wilton by the Children’s Aid Society amounts to discrimination, plain and simple.
What’s happened with Maricyl and Charles is about discrimination against people with disabilities. The couple were supposedly told they needed the help of an ‘able-bodied’ person to care for their son. Maricyl and Charles are able, as far as I can tell from what I’ve read; they’re just differently-abled. That’s what those authorities don’t seem to get: You can still be competent even if you have a disability. I’ve noticed similar misperceptions of my son, Max, who has cerebral palsy (and who kicks butt); people are often surprised by his abilities because they are so blinded by his disabilities. Shame on those bureaucrats from Children’s Aid Society. Their disability—narrow-mindedness—is far more severe than the couple’s.
In her blog post on the topic, Seidman quoted Kaney O’Neill, an Illinois mother who is a quadriplegic: “I’m disappointed that the courts allow for someone to question your ability to have custody based on your disability.” Indeed. These dedicated parents have so much to contribute to the lives of their children and there is no logical basis upon which to assume that their disability will hinder them in parenting a child any more than the limitations any able-bodied parent may have.
Palisoc and Wilton Convince CAS to Back Off
CBC News contacted CAS in an attempt to better understand what might make them get involved with a family. Ultimately, they said they want to ensure that parents are able to care for all of their children’s needs. When CBC pressed for further information, they seemed unable to come up with a satisfactory answer for when someone’s disability may become a cause for concern.
Asked how the Peel society determines if someone is “not able-bodied enough” to care for their child, Allan-Ebron said the organization’s social workers are not focused on whether a parent is disabled.
“The definition is about not whether they are able-bodied or disabled, it’s about their abilities to physically, cognitively, emotionally meet the demands of caring for a child,” Allan-Ebron said.
Pressed further on how the Peel Children’s Aid Society would specifically determine who is an “able-bodied” parent, Allan-Ebron said: “We would look at the situation that we were faced with, in terms of the challenges that any family would be facing in a particular situation,and we would look at what was required in order to support the challenges and needs of that particular family.”
In a meeting with CAS on Friday, Palisoc and Wilton were able to convince CAS that they are able to meet the needs of 3-week old William. According to the Toronto Star, they have worked out an arrangement that allows them to independently care for their baby while still having support when they need it.
Linda Soulliere, executive director of the Coalition for Persons with Disabilities, said her organization worked out a support plan with AbleLiving, a group that provides assistance to adults with disabilities, and submitted it to the CAS for approval.
The plan involves support workers providing enhanced or essential care for the parents and child. They are on-call 24 hours a day, and plan to schedule regular visits with the family.
The parents are relieved and happy to be able to get back to focusing on enjoying their newborn baby.
Will This Case Help Prevent Future Discrimination?
Why Palisoc and Wilton were targeted by CAS to begin with remains unclear. If they were doing everything necessary to take care of their child and getting assistance when they needed it (as any family would), why did CAS get involved? Despite their assertion that a disability alone wouldn’t be a reason to flag a family or insist on certain conditions, it certainly seems like that was the case here. If nothing else, hopefully this family has taught case workers at CAS that having a disability doesn’t make one an unfit parent.
Photo credit: limaoscarjuliet on flickr.