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How Can We Ensure The Rights of Parents With Disabilities?

How Can We Ensure The Rights of Parents With Disabilities?
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What could be worse than to have your child taken away by someone who tells you that you, the parent, are not capable or raising her or him?

Just such a forced removal of a child happens at an “alarming rate” to parents with intellectual disabilities in Australia, the country’s ABC News reports. Human rights and disability rights advocates assert that such removals of children into state care are “wrong” and “inhumane” yet continue to occur due to “entrenched prejudice.”

As a parent (and of a son with disabilities), the thought of having my child taken from me on the grounds that I was unable to care for him is deeply disturbing. On the other hand, I know what’s involved in being a parent and how overwhelming it can be to realize that you are solely responsible for the total care, well-being and future of another human being.

Australia Removing Children From Parents With Intellectual Disabilities

Individuals with intellectual disabilities comprise only one percent of the general parenting population in Australia. But in New South Wales — which has the highest removal rate in the country — those with intellectual disabilities make up ten percent of the parents who are fighting in the courts to win back their own children.

The government of course contends that it is simply doing what is best for all parties. Says NSW Family Services Minister Pru Goward to ABC News:

“Every removal is the failure of our community to keep children safe in their own homes; sometimes you are going to have to do it.”

“In other words, some failures are inevitable, but every time we do it, it is of great distress to everybody.”

But surely it is the children and their parents who undergo the greatest distress and who pay, and suffer, when “failures” occur?

Two women with mild intellectual disabilities who were themselves wards of the state specifically told ABC News that they not want their children to go through what they did. They recount experiences revealing how, after having a child, they ended up very much at the mercy of government agencies. A woman identified as Lily says that her baby was taken from her hours after she gave birth by family services. The same agency took the child of another woman, identified as Clara, when she sought help from the agency.

Rights of Parents With Disabilities Are Often Overlooked

In the cases of these women, their own responses to the potential trauma of having a child removed from them by state agencies was not fully considered. Dr. Margaret Spencer from the Intellectual Disability Rights Service and others point out that parents with disabilities too often get the proverbial short end of the stick when children are removed. “I have no question that we have to act in the best interests of the child, but we also have to show compassion to the parents,”  Dr. Spencer says, in calling for standardized protocols in removing a child and for providing parents with grief and trauma counseling.

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42 comments

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5:06AM PDT on Nov 1, 2012

thanks

5:19PM PDT on Oct 29, 2012

The standards should be the same for everyone across the board,disabled or not-the child should only be removed from the parents for deliberate abuse or neglect of the child.If that is not happening,leave the family alone.The govt interferes in people's personal affairs and family life way too much,and will continue to do so until we stop allowing it.

1:43AM PDT on Oct 29, 2012

To speak of intellectual disabilities is complicated because there are so many things to consider. The rights of the child, the rights of the parent(s), the desires of each, the abilities of the parent, the degree of disabiity, the services available to help the family in the area where they live.

To me, the first 3 are no brainers. But the abilities of the parent, and the degree of disability are the two areas that would concern me. And I say this having 1st hand experience with several family members with intellectual disabilities. My cousin was a hydrocephalic baby and given little chance of survival. But survive she did, and better than any expectations. Her decision making abilities were not always the best, but when it came to her child, there was no doubt that that child came first. What's more, she lived independently, but she had the support of her parents. She survived her disability but was struck down by breast cancer at age 41 when her daughter was 5 years old. That daughter is now 25 and remembers well her mother, and the love she gave her. I also think of others that are in group homes because of the challenges they face as adults dealing with their own disabilities. How do we, as a caring society, help these people deal with options available to them. To me, it cannot be a cookie cutter approach. It must be individually based and any actions taken, taken with respect and love for the child and the parent(s).

9:00PM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

In this case .... parents and child or children should have help....it is often difficult with the way people look at this type of situation anyway........

8:42PM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

If you cannot take care of your kids- they at first should offer classes or other assistance to keep the kids with the parent they love, rather than breaking up the family. But if you still can't take care of your kid, then you should lose custody and get put on contraception! And I mean anyone- mentally disabled, drug addicted, or whatever- I wouldn't single out just intellectually disabled people. Loving your kid is more important than your IQ, at least up to a point...

6:38AM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

Thank you, so sad to read.

9:18PM PDT on Oct 26, 2012

Thanks for the post.

6:46PM PDT on Oct 26, 2012

As usual, I'm dismayed, amazed and disgusted. What happened to trying to keep families together? There are truly children in troubling and horrendous situations like the one I heard about the other day where a mother was keeping her 3 adopted children locked up in a room without sufficient food and clothing. Child welfare will step in and take a child out of a loving family situation, but will probably fall all over themselves to reunite this abusive mother with her adopted children at some point after she gets out of prison. What's wrong with the world these days anyway?

3:04PM PDT on Oct 26, 2012

It's another one of many laws or court orders that make absolutely no sense and does more damage to all concern then good. Taking a child away from a parent under these conditions is just plain stupi from an economic and moral standpoint. We the people are going to have to provide the disable parent, in many cases, home care and probably assistance in the form of SS disability and we will have to take care of the child's support also, so why not let them stay together (the moral standpoint) in a loving environment; indeed, this way we only have to provide one home, a little bit more on the already SS disability check and one home care cost instead of two.

3:01PM PDT on Oct 26, 2012

Thanks Kristina for the article and your perspective on this.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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