Disabled Parents Put in the Same Category as Child Abusers

Disabled people don't get put into institutions anymore and we have all these 'access to work' schemes and educational courses as society makes a half-hearted effort to be inclusive. Once a disabled person has a family, that is when society's true colours start to show through and that leads me to believe there are many in this world - particularly those in positions of power - who secretly harbour the desire to put us all back into institutions. Out of sight, out of mind, where our disabled parenting doesn't challenge their world view or threaten their own deep seated prejudisms that they weren't even aware they had until they saw a disabled parent with their child.

Forgive me for being blunt. I'm not saying all 'abled' people feel that way - I'm friends with some lovely 'abled' people, one of which is my best friend, but I feel the attitude is wide spread enough that it permeates through every area of life, including the legal system and when you have a person in a position of power such as a social worker or a magistrate who secretly holds those prejudisms, it's impossible for a disabled parent to be treated equally.

In the UK and in 37 states of America a person can have their parental rights terminated just because they are disabled. (See Policy Research Briefs). This is in spite of the fact that even for people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness, the rate for abusing a child is not higher than the general population (Glaun & Brown, 1999; Oyserman, Mowbray, Meares, & Firminger, 2000) and the children of disabled parents are not usually given duties that are more taxing than those given to children of 'abled' parents - if fact, the research shows the opposite, that many disabled parents like me avoid giving their child duties such as household chores because they don't want to over-burden them or face the assumption that they are (Cohen, 1997).

Despite this evidence to the contrary, 15% of physically disabled parents face attempts to have their children removed by social services, 13% say they are discriminated against in family courts and up to 80% lose their children if they have an intellectual disability or an emotional illness.

In contrast, almost all cases of termination of parental rights in an 'abled' and non-depressed parent are based upon neglect or child abuse (and in America, also on abandonment).

The Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota wrote:

'A major concern about the inclusion of disability in the grounds for termination is that it can shift the focus from a parent’s behavior to a parent’s condition. Almost all of the non-disability related grounds for TPR are based on parents’ past or current behaviors, such as neglect, abuse or abandonment. While no states have criteria indicating that having a disability by itself is grounds for termination, it also is one of the only grounds for termination that is based on a contributing factor to a parent’s behavior, rather than the parent’s behavior itself.'

The situation is the same in the UK and is one of the reasons why the standard of parenting required by the court is higher than that set for 'abled' parents, who - if they don't have drug or alcohol problem - are not required to 'prove' they can parent.

It also puts disabled parents in the same category as parents who have abused or neglected their children or those who have been unable to look after their children due to drug use. Just look at the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority's (HFEA's) 'Welfare of the Child' form - a form given out to all people seeking IVF or other assisted reproductive treatment. The form states that:

'The information you provide in this form will help determine whether any child you might have is likely to be at risk of serious harm.'

Then question 4 on the form asks 'Do you have any mental or physical conditions?'

Since the form's purpose is to identify 'serious risk of harm' to the child - what does a physical condition have to do with it? It implies that disabled parents could cause serious harm to their child. It also makes the assumption that a parent with an intellectual or 'mental' condition would harm their child - and again, this is not backed up by research. It is purely based on prejudism.

What makes this form doubly offensive is that question 4 - just above the question about mental and physical conditions, asks: 'Is there any serious violence or discord within your family environment?', lumping disability in the same category as parents who might subject their children to serious violence.

If you're a disabled mother who loses custody of your child through these unfair assumptions, the situation is worse than it is for a man. As sexist as this sounds, women are viewed as nurturers and society automatically assumes that after divorce the children will stay with the mother. Even if the courts give an equal say to both genders, the social expectation is that the mother will be the main child carer. If she doesn't, she is suspected of child abuse. Type the term 'non-custodial mother' into any search engine and you will find a torrant of hate filled posts about 'waste of space, dead beat, drug abusing mothers'.

The struggle to be accepted into society as a disabled person is hard enough, but then having the added stigma of being a mother not allowed to raise a child brings another layer of alienation into the lives of non-custodial, disabled mothers.

As a disabled parent, I am fed up of being put in the same category as the monsters that killed Baby P and baby Ayeeshia, that governing authorities believe that having a disabled parent is as bad as having a violent parent.

I am tired of disabled parents being vetted by social services and fighting to keep their own kids when they are normal, loving parents whose only crime was to have a medical condition, particularly when notorious child abusers have been left to beat children to death and the same social service department has done NOTHING to stop it. If they spent less time chasing disabled parents and more time protecting children who are actually being abused, they would have a better reputation.

My feeling is, they target disabled parents because they percieve them to be weak and it is easier to take their child for an incentive driven adoption than it is to root out real child abusers who are devious and cunning in their nature.

It is time that UK courts stopped using disability in 'welfare of the child' arguments and as a reason for termination of parental rights. Disabled parents are not child abusers and don't deserve to be treated like them.

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