Briefing focuses on rights of parents with disabilities

Sep 24, 2014

Countless children are waiting for homes that many people with disabilities want to provide, says Robyn Powell, attorney adviser for the National Council on Disability.

“There are a significant number of people with disabilities who want to take adoptive children in and raise them,” she said. “But they can face attitudinal and policy matters in the adoption process.”

Powell moderated a Capitol Hill briefing on this topic in June, which NASW and NCD co-sponsored. She said the scope of the briefing, called “Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children,” was for people with diverse disabilities — including intellectual and developmental, psychiatric, sensory and physical — and it was held to raise awareness of the issues they face when trying to adopt.

Traci LaLiberte, executive director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work, spoke on behalf of NASW at the briefing as a panel member. She said children who are made to wait for permanency because viable parents are not being considered — such as parents with disabilities — violates the federal mandates of the Adoption and Safe Families Act; Fostering Connections; and the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

All of these mandates assert that children should be moved to safe, stable permanent homes in a timely fashion, LaLiberte said.

“No one here is saying that people with disabilities get an automatic pass in the adoption-assessment process,” she said. “Not all parents with disabilities can parent. Not all parents without disabilities can parent. What we are saying, what I am saying, is that all parents regardless of race, ability, disability, sexual orientation, gender orientation, marital status and so on should be assessed based on the person’s ability to provide a safe and stable home that attends to the well-being of a child.”

Possible benefits have been identified for the children of families headed by individuals with disabilities, said panel member David Brodzinsky, research director at the Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York City and professor emeritus of clinical and developmental psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“These benefits included (the child) having more compassion, respecting differences among people, developing resiliency in the face of adversity, stronger family ties, gaining problem-solving and life skills, and becoming more independent,” he said.

LaLiberte’s suggestions at the briefing included developing best practice guidelines for including prospective parents with disabilities, and training for child welfare social workers, supervisors and court personnel.

“Child welfare workers are hired, they have state training systems, they go through their state training systems, it’s a robust training, and never within there are they getting disability training. It doesn’t exist,” she said. “A full range of training, including knowledge skills and attitudes for working with people with various disabilities, must be required.”

She also said schools of social work should emphasize disability training more.

“Schools of social work at the bachelor’s and graduate level need to increase their inclusion of disability education throughout their curriculum, specifically in their areas of child welfare and adoption content areas,” LaLiberte said.

Other panel members at the briefing included Colleen Gioffreda, national adoption coordinator for Little People of America; and Linda Spears, vice president of policy and public affairs for the Child Welfare League of America.

The National Council on Disability is an independent federal agency that advises the president, Congress and other federal agencies on policies, programs, practices and procedures that affect people with disabilities. NCD works to further the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for all people with disabilities.

More information: National Council on Disability.

From the September 2014 NASW News.