Additional supports for parents with disabilities would benefit families

by Nikki Villavicencio

When it comes to supports for people with disabilities, we often discuss quality of life. Creating supports for people with disabilities who want to have a family, is not frequently discussed. This year, in spite of everything, the Minnesota legislature passed a bill (Senate File 296/House File 163) to create a pilot program to provide and further study supports for parents with disabilities.

In 2012 Johnathon Young, the then Chairman of the National Council on Disability (NCD) pointed out in a letter to President Barack Obama, that despite the 14th Amendment, the Olmstead Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), parents with disabilities are the only distinct community of Americans who must struggle to retain custody of their children. The NCD’s report Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children, clearly states despite some achievements in disability rights, parents with disabilities are more likely to have their children removed by the child welfare system.

Widespread discrimination leads to parents with disabilities to also have their parental rights terminated, barriers to prospective parents, barriers to adopting and fostering children. The NCD report notes that multiple systems are to blame, including but not limited to, the child welfare, family law and adoption systems. One of the proposed recommendations (from the NCD report) is to steer change through state statues. Several states have passed legislation that addresses a patchwork of issues.

The National Research Center for Parents with Disabilities (which can be found at centerforparentswithdisabilities.org, lists and describes each states’ legislation. It is important to know that many passionate advocates, providers, policymakers and beautiful children have worked hard to achieve each states’ legislation that seeks to eliminate discrimination for parents with disabilities.

According to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, Minnesotans with disabilities are more than two times as likely to live in poverty than non-disabled people. It should not be surprising to anyone then, that parents with disabilities are three times more likely to have their parental rights terminated than their non-disabled counterpart. Many know the challenges that all families face, involved in the child welfare system. Parents with disabilities are 2 times as likely than their non-disabled counterpart to also have the child welfare system involved in their lives.

So we can see the difference between parenting with a disability and parenting without a disability is economics. These disparities are reported from the Minn-LinK Project. Minn-LinK is a system of data, that uses multiple agencies that the most marginalized children and families are served.

In Minnesota about five years ago, a small group of advocates, providers, policymakers, and youth came together to draft legislation that would address parenting with a disability. We studied all of the NCD’s recommendations and decided that Minnesota was best suited for a common sense path. Senate File 296/House File 163 is a proactive approach to support parents with disabilities and prevent events leading to child welfare action. This legislation creates a state-funded pilot program to provide supportive parenting services to parents who are eligible for personal care assistance services or Community First Services and Supports.

This new service would be called Supportive Parenting Services. The service would be eligible for parents that are currently receiving personal care assistance. The service would also be in addition to their current services and would not exceed 40 hours per month. Another section of the pilot project is to provide adaptive parenting equipment that would not otherwise be covered by medical services. One of the most promising sections of the state-funded pilot project is the establishment of the Parenting with a Disability Advisory Committee. The advisory committee would include a number of members, but not limited to, legislative members, personal care attendants, people with disabilities, a representative from Child Protection Services, and representation from the Department of Human Services. The advisory committee, in conjunction with the Commissioner of Human Services, would also give a report to the legislature.

As we further the supports for parents with disabilities, the hope is to increase the quality of life for all people. We all deserve to live in whatever family we choose.

Silver linings are hard to find when enduring a pandemic, but I am sure this is one of them. Thank you to all the supporters of parents!

Nikki Villavicencio is a longtime disability rights activist.