A History of Idaho's Legislation Protecting Parents with Disabilities

A picture of a gavel.

In response to the pervasive discrimination experienced by parents with disabilities involved with the child welfare and family law systems, the Idaho State Independent Living Council (SILC) undertook groundbreaking efforts to change its states law (National Council on Disability, 2012). These efforts began in 1999 as the Idaho SILC was collecting information from people with disabilities about priority issues for its annual State Plan on Independent Living. Through this data gathering, many parents with disabilities reported heartbreaking stories of child welfare system involvement and child custody loss. 

In 2000, led by Kelly Buckland, the executive director of the Idaho SILC at the time, the FAMILY Committee was established to tackle the bias facing disabled parents and their families (Fathers and Mothers Independently Living with their Youth; Lightfoot, LaLiberte, & Hill, 2007). The FAMILY Committee, comprised of people with disabilities, advocates, and legislators, determined that legislative change was needed for preventing discrimination against parents with disabilities. Specifically, they sought to improve existing legislation in Idaho laws that resulted in child removal based on parental disability and to create an evaluation system that considered adaptive parenting strategies, equipment, and supports (Lightfoot et al., 2007).

The FAMILY Committees efforts took four years and included several failed attempts to get legislation passed. Finally, 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 (2002 Idaho House Bill 577; 2002 Idaho House Bill 579; 2003 Idaho House Bill 160; 2003 Idaho House Bill 167). Specifically, these bills resulted in the following changes to Idahos laws:

  • Added a nondiscrimination statement concerning parents with disabilities.
  • Defined “disability,” “supportive services,” and “adaptive equipment.”
  • Added a section related to the admissibility of evidence in court proceedings about supportive services and adaptive equipment for parents with disabilities, providing opportunity for parents to demonstrate how services and equipment can facilitate successful parenting. 
  • Added language requiring parenting evaluations of disabled parents to include consideration of supportive services and adaptive equipment and to be conducted by someone knowledgeable about such services and equipment.
  • Eliminated parental disability from the list of factors to be considered in cases concerning parents with disabilities, thus preventing removal on the basis of disability alone.
  • Added a provision requiring courts to issue written statements when it decides that a parent’s disability is relevant, thus suggesting the need to justify and not presume the relevance of disability.

During its 2002 and 2003 legislative sessions, Idaho became the first state in the US to comprehensively change its state laws to safeguard the rights of parents with disabilities and their families. Nearly two decades later, 18 states have passed legislation related to parents with disabilities and the child welfare and family law systems (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia and an additional 12 states currently have legislation pending (Alabama, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Rhode Island) (National Research Center for Parents with Disabilities, 2019).

References

Lightfoot, E., LaLiberte, T., & Hill, K. (2007). Guide to creating legislative change: Disability status in termination of parental rights and other child custody statutes. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Retrieved from http://www.cehd.umn.edu/ssw/CASCW/attributes/PDF/LegislativeChange.pdf

National Council on Disability. (2012). Rocking the cradle: Ensuring the rights of parents with disabilities and their children. Washington, DC: Author.

National Research Center for Parents with Disabilities. (October 22, 2019). Current legislation. Retrieved from https://heller.brandeis.edu/parents-with-disabilities/map/index.html.