Feds release new guidance on disability discrimination in child welfare proceedings

Muslim mother in wheelchair holds baby, while studying a book
Child Welfare Agencies Must Accommodate Parents with Disabilities

State and local child welfare agencies must improve their compliance efforts with federal disability discrimination laws, the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services warned in a new technical document released August 10.

“This technical assistance reflects an important milestone in the ongoing effort to realize equality for individuals with disabilities in all aspects of our society,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in a news release.  “The (Americans with Disabilities Act) and (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act) ensure that all government providers of programs, activities, and services treat people with disabilities in a fair and equal manner.

“State and local agencies and courts are our partners in defending the rights of people with disabilities, and this guidance gives them an improved understanding of how to uphold those rights more effectively.”

The report provides an overview of the relevant provisions of the ADA and Section 504, which applies to recipients of federal funding, and bars custody determinations from being made solely on the basis of disability. These laws apply to all people involved in child welfare proceedings, including “children, parents, legal guardians, relatives, other caretakers, foster and adoptive parents, and individuals seeking to become foster or adoptive parents,” the document states.

In addition, state and local child welfare agencies are required to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities, provided they do not impose an undue burden on the agency or constitute a fundamental alteration to the services provided.

For example, agencies must provide auxiliary aids to support people with visual and hearing disabilities, such as closed captioning videos, sign language interpreters and written materials in alternative formats, such as, Braille.

If the agency provides parenting classes only once in a week, then it may have to modify its schedule. Transportation services may qualify as well.

“Parenting skills do not come naturally to many parents, with or without disabilities,” the report states. “To provide assistance to parents with disabilities that is equal to that offered to parents without disabilities, child welfare agencies may be required to provide enhanced or supplemental training, to increase frequency of training opportunities, or to provide such training in familiar environments conducive to learning.”

In 2012, the federal National Council on Disability [www.ncd.gov is not currently responding] released an extensive report, documenting widespread discrimination against parents with disabilities at all stages in child custody proceedings.