Briefing focuses on rights of parents with disabilities

NASW co-sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing in April to discuss the rights of parents with disabilities, as well as the recommendations to protect these rights.

The briefing, called Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children, was based on a report from the National Council on Disability released in September 2012.

NCD Chairman Jeff Rosen, a third-generation deaf person, began the forum with introductory remarks and described NCD as the, “voice for people with disabilities in the federal government.”

“The view is that parents with disabilities are not competent,” Rosen said. “Parents with disabilities from across the nation came to NCD and said we needed to write a report on the issue.”

The panel included Robyn Powell, attorney adviser for the NCD; Erin Andrews, PsyD rehabilitation psychologist at the Central Texas VA Health Care System and clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine; Elspeth Slayter, Ph.D., MSW, associate professor at the Salem State University School of Social Work; and Linda Spears, vice president of policy and public affairs at the Child Welfare League of America.

As a high school student, Powell hoped to someday have children. As a person with a disability, she never realized someone would question her ability to have a child because of her physical disability.

“People with disabilities encounter significant barriers when it comes to raising a family,” Powell said. “The importance of the issue is being realized. Approximately 6.2 percent of all U.S. parents have a disability and this number will likely increase.”

Andrews, who also has a disability and is the mother of a 17-month-old son, said there is a need for more federal funding for parents with disabilities and research to support why these parents are just as fit to care for their children as those without physical disabilities.

“We can talk about what we think about parents with disabilities, but we need research to back it up,” Andrews said. “There is a lack of data. I experienced providers in the medical field who did not know what to do with me when I was pregnant with my son.”

As a representative of NASW and the child of a parent with a disability, Slayter said through teaching and research, she discovered that the presence of a disability is often seen as reason for the removal of a child from the home.

She said, “Social workers have to support the rights of parents with disabilities. Change often takes place in person-to-person interactions, and social workers need to be aware of how child protection services work. We need to remember what we know about best practices in training.”

“We all have a responsibility to fix what’s broken,” said Spears, who has an older brother living with a disability.

“In the child welfare field, we have a habit of talking about what we believe in and what we value, but people don’t always understand where they stand,” she said. “We have to talk about the rights of children, we have to engage youth, and we have to dig deeper in data.”

NASW Senior Governance Associate Kelsey Nepote said it’s important for NASW to be involved in this issue because social workers work with, and on behalf of, persons with disabilities every day.

Promoting the rights of individuals with disabilities is essential, she said. A core social work value is that of self-determination which individuals with disabilities may often be denied.

Social workers have an important role in working to ensure persons with disabilities have the opportunity to lead healthy, fulfilled lives, she added.