Beginning with the investigation into a report of child maltreatment, bias pervades the child welfare system, and “at any step in the process, societal prejudices, myths, and misconceptions may rear their heads.” Systematic discrimination by state courts, child welfare agencies, and legislatures against parents with disabilities and their families has taken a toll. Statistics indicate that children of parents with disabilities are removed from their parents with alarming frequency.
When authorities take a child, a 1997 federal law mandates that they must provide parents with access to the programs and services they need to reunite with their children. If the issue that brought a child into foster care is homelessness, child welfare systems must find parents housing. If it's drugs: treatment. If it's abuse: parenting classes. Parents can be compelled to attend anger management classes, seek counseling or leave an abusive partner.
But the law does not explicitly cover disabilities, mental or physical. And in the absence of a clearly applicable federal standard, at least five states—Alaska, Arizona, California, Kentucky and North Dakota—have listed mental illness as one of a few "aggravating circumstances" that exempt authorities from having to provide help to attempt to piece families back together. Among the handful of other circumstances? Murdering, torturing or sexually abusing a child.
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