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Rights of Parents with Disabilities

State and local child welfare agencies, as well as courts, are responsible for protecting your children and families. But they also need to ensure that as a parent, guardian, or prospective parent with a disability, you are not discriminated against based on disability. By doing so, courts and agencies not only will be helping to place your children in safe and caring homes—they will also be complying with the ADA.

Learn more about the parts of the ADA that state/local governments need to comply with

State/local child welfare agencies and courts need to follow a part of the ADA called Title II. You can learn more about Title II in the Introduction to the ADA.

Examples of Child Welfare Services

Child welfare agencies and courts need to make sure that they provide their services in ways that do not discriminate against parents with disabilities. Importantly, an agency or court may not rely on stereotypes about individuals with disabilities. And, in many instances, they must make reasonable changes to the way they usually do things so that people with disabilities can fully participate.

All services offered by child welfare agencies and courts need to comply with the ADA, including for example:

  • When a caseworker comes to your home and investigates a report of child abuse or neglect.
  • When a child welfare agency (for example, a “Department of Social Services”) evaluates your fitness as a parent.
  • When you ask for in-home services to help you care for or reunite with your child.
  • When you are being considered for visitation, guardianship, adoption, or foster care.
  • When you are in court, participating in a hearing about custody or the possible termination of your parental rights.

Individualized Treatment for Parents

When making important decisions regarding a parent or prospective parent with a disability, a child welfare agency or a court must conduct an individualized assessment of the parent’s ability to provide for their child’s needs, wellbeing, and welfare.

This means they must:

  • Make a fair determination as to the parent’s ability to care for a child.

  • Assess the parent on an individual basis.

They must not:

  • Rely on stereotypes about people with disabilities and how they parent.

Examples of How Child Welfare Agencies and Courts Can Provide Equal Access

There are many different actions that a child welfare agency or court generally must take to ensure they are providing parents, guardians, and prospective parents with disabilities a full and equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the agency’s programs and services.

For example, a child welfare agency or court generally must:

  • Provide an interpreter at a court hearing for a father who is deaf and uses sign language.
  • Provide large print and electronically accessible adoption materials for a prospective parent who is interested in adoption and has a vision disability.

An agency or court may also need to:

  • Provide hands-on and individualized instruction to a mother with an intellectual disability so that she can participate in parenting classes that are ordinarily provided in a group classroom format.
  • Arrange for available services beyond what the agency would normally provide (for example, to help with housing needs, counseling, parenting classes) as a reasonable modification of its procedures and practices.

This is just a quick list of examples to get you started.

Learn more about these, and other, examples and their limitations

In addition, a child welfare agency or court may not:

  • Require a person with a disability to bring their own interpreter.
  • Rely on a minor child or family member to interpret, except in an emergency.
  • Rely on an adult family member to interpret except in an emergency or when specific conditions are met.
  • Charge a person with a disability for any costs associated with providing effective communication, such as an interpreter, during visitation, meetings, and court hearings.

Learn More about Parental Rights and the ADA