On April 17, 2013 NASW co-hosted a Congressional briefing with the National Council on Disabilities (NCD), American Psychological Association (APA), and Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) titled, Rocking the Cradle: Protecting the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children. The briefing focused on the barriers persons with disabilities experience when they exercise their fundamental right to create and maintain families, and recommendations to improve these conditions and discriminatory practices. The briefing was an extension from an NCD report released in September 2012 by the same title.
Jeff Rosen, Chairperson of NCD, severed as moderator for the briefing and described NCD as the, “voice for people with disabilities’ in the federal government.” Robyn Powell, Attorney Advisor at NCD, was the first panelist and she provided an overview of the report and highlighted some key recommendations to the Executive and Legislative branches of government, as well as recommendations for states and service providers. To begin her remarks, Ms. Powell noted that NASW has embraced the report and continues to stand committed to working to resolve some of the complex issues faced by many parents with disabilities. She also commended NASW for including promoting the rights of parents with disabilities in the NASW 2012 Document to the Obama Administration.
Dr. Elspeth Slayter, Associate Professor at Salem State University School of Social Work, represented NASW on the panel and presented thought-provoking remarks combining her personal and professional experiences. Dr. Slayter stressed the importance of increased education and training for social workers in working with parents with disabilities. She recommended that students planning to enter, or re-enter, the child welfare workforce receive specialized education about strengths-based approaches to work with this population, such as the social model of disability and self-determination, as opposed to deficit models. Furthermore, she urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Children’s Bureau to develop a summer-intensive training fellowship program to create disability specialists in each child welfare local-level jurisdiction, much like the current approaches to provide intimate partner violence specialist in each child welfare local-level jurisdiction. Dr. Slayter’s complete list of recommendations includes:
Recommendations for the Administration and Federal Agencies
- The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) urges the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Children’s Bureau to collaborate with the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI), NASW, and the National Center for Parents with Disabilities and Their Families of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to develop a summer-intensive training fellowship program to create disability specialists in each child welfare local-level jurisdiction (i.e. Indian country, regional/county offices in every state). This idea is modeled after current approaches to provide an intimate partner violence specialist in each child welfare local-level jurisdiction.
- NASW encourages the implementation of their standing recommendations on needed improvements to the Title-IV-E child welfare training program to increase the population of child welfare workers who have professional social work degrees.
- NASW suggests that the Department of Justice (DOJ), in collaboration with the HHS as appropriate, should issue guidance to all child welfare and related agencies on their legal obligations pursuant to federal disability law and increase investigations and enforcement of violations of such laws.
- NASW urges HHS to better support parents with disabilities and their children by expanding the definition of durable medical equipment (DME) to include adaptive parenting equipment, identifying and implementing mechanisms to pay for comprehensive preconception care for Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities, and expanding the definition of Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) to include parenting activities.
Recommendations for Congress
- NASW urges Congress to enact legislation that will ensure the rights of parents with disabilities and their children, in accordance with the language set forth in the National Council on Disabilities (NCD) report Rocking the Cradle: The Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children.
- NASW recommends appropriation of funding for research on parents with disabilities and their families, specifically the addition of a requirement to track parental disability in the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) and the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS) data systems, much as child disability is currently measured.
- NASW recommends Congress amend the Adoption and Safe Families Act to add specific protections for parents with disabilities.
- NASW urges Congress to shift funding priorities at the federal level so that states have a greater incentive to provide prevention and preservation services that are truly accessible to parents with disabilities and their children.
Recommendations for States and Service Providers
- NASW urges disability and mental health service providers to be mandated to gather data on the parenting status of the people they serve.
- NASW encourages the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agencies – the nationwide network of congressionally mandated, legally based disability rights agencies which exist in every U.S. state and territory – to establish parenting rights as a formal priority, and funding must be appropriated accordingly.
- NASW recommends that the Centers for Independent Living (CILs) – which provide services, support, and advocacy to enhance the rights and opportunities for people with disabilities to actively live and participate in their communities and are operated by persons with disabilities as both philosophy and practice –make serving the needs of parents with disabilities a national priority and funding must be appropriated accordingly.
Other panelists included, Dr. Erin Andrews, a rehabilitation psychologist and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M Health Science Center, and Linda Spears, Vice President of Policy and Public Affairs at CWLA. They focused their remarks on the need to increase federal funding for research in this area and the need to increase data collection among parents with disabilities.
NASW will continue to work with these groups to advance the recommendations found in this report.