National Research Center for Parents with Disabilities

Child Welfare, Family Law, and the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Families

Experiences of Parents with Psychiatric Disabilities Who Are Involved with the Child Welfare System: Perspectives of Parents and Legal Services Staff

This study examines the provision of support and meaningful legal services for parents with psychiatric disabilities in the child welfare system. Through interviews with parents with psychiatric disabilities and employees, three barriers are identified: (1) socioeconomic and demographic factors; (2) prejudice and lack of knowledge regarding mental illness; and (3) trauma imposed by the child welfare system.

Housing Circumstances of Parents with Disabilities within the Child Welfare System

This study uses data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Dataset to examine the housing circumstances of parents with disabilities in the child welfare system, with particular attention to race/ethnicity and disability. The study found that parents with disabilities experienced higher likelihood of inadequate housing than parents without disabilities. The study also found that Black parents with disabilities experienced increased risk for inadequate housing compared to Black parents without a disability.

Life Circumstances of Diverse Parents with Disabilities with Child Welfare System Involvement

This study examines the life circumstances of parents with disabilities involved with the child welfare system, with a focus on parents from racial and ethnic minority groups. Parents with disabilities in the child welfare system have a higher risk of inadequate housing, domestic abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and financial struggles when compared to parents in the child welfare system who don't have a disability. In addition, Black and Hispanic parents with disabilities have a higher risk of these circumstances than those who are in the same racial or ethnic group but don't have any disabilities.

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Recurrence of Substantiated Reports of Child Maltreatment by Low-Income Parents with Disabilities: The Importance of Poverty and Race

The findings of this study highlight the complex relationships between poverty, race, disability, and child welfare involvement. To develop and disseminate more effective interventions that prevent children of low-income caregivers with disabilities from repeated system involvements, it is fundamental to understand their unique challenges and needs, and to develop services and supports that are accessible, individually tailored, and culturally competent to meet the needs of caregivers from racial and ethnic minority communities.

Parents with Disabilities Involvement in the Child Welfare System: A Twenty-First Century Bibliography

This compilation of sources shows the significant increase in recent years in attention by researchers and practitioners to the issue of the involvement of parents with disabilities in the child welfare system.

Who Reports Parents with Intellectual Disabilities to the Child Welfare System?

Disabled parents—particularly, parents with intellectual disabilities—are reported to the child welfare system at higher rates than nondisabled parents. To learn how parents with intellectual disabilities become involved with the child protection system, researchers studied who is making these reports to the child welfare system and whether substantiation rates for parents and caregivers with intellectual disabilities vary depending on who referred them to the child welfare system.

Advocates, Attorneys, and Legislators on Passing Legislation that Protects the Rights of Parents with Disabilities

Parents with disabilities are routinely discriminated against in the child welfare, family law, and adoption and foster care systems. Over the past few decades, advocates, activists, and legislators have urged states to pass legislation protecting disabled parents. Many states have introduced or passed legislation to protect the rights of parents with disabilities and their children. However, though states are increasingly likely to pass such legislation, there are 22 states that still lack comprehensive protections for parents with disabilities. This study seeks to understand the obstacles that advocates, attorneys, and legislators face when they try to pass laws that protect the rights of parents with disabilities and identify solutions for passing laws that protect parents with disabilities and their children. 

Are Reports of Child Abuse among U.S. Parents with Disabilities More Likely to Be Substantiated?

Parents with disabilities are no more likely than other parents to abuse or neglect their children, but they are disproportionately more likely to interact with the child-protection system than their nondisabled counterparts. The beliefs of mandated reporters, such as teachers and doctors, about the inability of people with disabilities to raise children, have contributed to this overrepresentation. There is, however, very little research that has examined how often child-protection cases involving parents with disabilities are substantiated. (Substantiated child-protection cases have enough evidence to be investigated, but they may or may not result in charges of abuse.)

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Best Practices for Attorneys and Researchers on How to Safeguard the Rights of Parents with Intellectual Disabilities and their Families

In this brief, attorneys can learn the best practices for supporting parents with intellectual disabilities in custody disputes and other situations in which their parental rights may be threatened.
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Family Law Project Evaluation Final Report

The purpose of this study was to investigate how former clients of the Family Law Project perceived the services they received as well as their interaction with the legal system. Specifically, we sought to understand these parents' experiences and identify their recommendations for improving both the Family Law Project and legal and support services for parents with psychiatric disabilities, generally. We also examined the experiences these parents had with the family court process.
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A History of Idaho's Legislation Protecting Parents with Disabilities

During the 2002 and 2003 legislative sessions, Idaho became the first state in the US to pass comprehensive legislation aimed at ensuring the rights of parents with disabilities in child welfare, family law, guardianship, and adoption matters (Callow et al., 2011). Collectively, these bills address bias, lack of professional knowledge about parents with disabilities, adaptive parenting equipment and supports, issues related to evidentiary standards in court disputes, and child removals solely based on a parents disability.

Meeting the Needs of Parents with Psychiatric Disabilities Facing Loss of Child Custody: Advice for the Legal Profession

Parents with psychiatric disabilities (also known as serious mental illness) and their families are highly vulnerable to child welfare system involvement and loss of child custody. This brief describes five elements to providing legal representation for parents with psychiatric disabilities.
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The Legal Obligations of Child Welfare Agencies and Courts when Working with Prospective Parents with Disabilities

Find out what child welfare workers can do for parents with disabilities in this information sheet.
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The Legal Obligations of Foster Care and Adoption Agencies when Working with Prospective Parents with Disabilities

Learn what adoption and foster-care agencies are supposed to do for parents with disabilities under federal law.

Parents with Mental Illnesses and the Adoption and Safe Families Act

Learn about the rights of parents with mental illnesses, ways that professionals can support them, and efforts to expand their rights in this research brief.

Representing Parents with Disabilities in Custody and Visitation Disputes: 10 Tips for Attorneys

Attorneys can use these 10 tips to help them represent parents with disabilities in visitation or custody disputes.

Representing Parents with Disabilities: 10 Tips for Attorneys

Learn 10 tips for attorneys representing parents with disabilities.

State Legislation and Parents with Disabilities

Learn about state laws protecting people with disabilities through the types of disabilities covered, the incorporation of the ADA, and adaptive equipment and support services.

Summary of Model Legislation Supporting Parents with Disabilities

This sample legislation protecting blind parents from discrimination in family court and custody disputes can be used as a model for future state laws.

Summary of State Legislation Supporting Parents with Disabilities

This page provides a summary of current and pending state legislation affecting the rights of parents with disabilities. Some laws protect all parents with disabilities from discrimination in court proceedings, while others are specific to a population, like blind parents.

Toolkits for Legislators and Advocates

Passing legislation protecting the rights of parents with disabilities can be a complicated, time-consuming process. Our toolkits outline strategies that advocates and legislators can use to pass legislation that protects disabled parents. In addition, we've provided versions for multiple audiences, including Spanish translations and plan-language versions.

Stigma and Stereotypes Facing Mothers with Disabilities

Unfortunately, parents with disabilities face numerous stereotypes and harmful misconceptions about their ability to raise children. In this Twitter chat, mothers with disabilities share the stigma they have encountered.

Map of Current State Legislation Supporting Parents with Disabilities

This is an interactive map detailing the status of each U.S. state's current legislation supporting parents with disabilities. Hover or tab to see legislation status. Click or press return to open a new page of detailed information.