Parents with Disabilities in Child Welfare, Part 1: Historical Context and Prevalence

Parents with Disabilities in Child Welfare, Part 1: Historical Context and Prevalence


Hello and welcome to the series of online
training modules on parents with disabilities in child welfare. My name is Mingyang Zheng. I am a doctoral student at the School of Social
Work, University of Minnesota. This training is a collaborative effort between
faculty at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work and the Center for Advanced
Studies in Child Welfare at the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota. This training module is part of an online
training effort that covers a wide range of topic areas in child welfare. This training module, Parents with Disabilities
in Child welfare, has three parts; each part is about 20 minutes. In part one, we will talk about historical
context and prevalence for parents with disabilities in child welfare. In part two, we will talk about parents with
disabilities and related policies. In part 3, we will discuss social supports
for parents with disabilities. So now, let’s get into the topic of historical
context and prevalence for parents with disabilities in child welfare. There are 3 learning objectives for this online
module. People who complete this training will be
able to: understand the historical context of parents with disabilities; be familiar
with the prevalence of parents with disabilities in child welfare; be familiar with the current
research regarding parents with disabilities and maltreatment in child welfare. So now, let’s talk about the historical
context. During most of the twentieth century, eugenics
was a popular “science” in the United States and much of the world. As a result, people with disabilities were
routinely sterilized involuntarily. Indiana was the first state to pass a sterilization
law in 1907 which authorized medical superintendents to sterilize people who were criminals or
physically or mentally disabled. California and Washington also passed a sterilization
law in 1909. From 1909 to 1937, another 30 states passed
eugenic sterilization laws. One of the most famous cases regarding the
involuntary sterilization of people with disabilities is Buck v. Bell. In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Courts’ decision
in Buck v. Bell legitimized the forced sterilization of people with intellectual disability at
a Virginia home. The U.S. Supreme Court voted 8 to 1 to uphold
the forced sterilization of Buck and her infant daughter, Vivian. Due to the Supreme Court’s decision, over
62,000 people in the United States were sterilized, and most of them were women. Moreover, Buck’s sister, Doris, also was sterilized,
but she didn’t know until later in life. She had been told that the operation was to
remove her appendix. Ironically, later research showed that Buck
had normal intelligence. Her daughter, who died at the age of 8, also
showed no sign of intellectual disability and was making good grades in school. Besides sterilizing people with disabilities,
it was also a common practice to remove babies at birth if their mothers were persons with
disabilities. For more information about eugenics, please
read a brief description of eugenics at the University of Virginia’s Claude Moore Health
Sciences Library. So now, we have briefly reviewed the historical
contexts of parents with disabilities. We learned that they were unfairly treated
due to their disabilities. Then, what about today? While state eugenic laws are no longer enforced
today, society hasn’t put much emphasis on understanding and supporting parents with
disabilities. Here are some current challenges that we have
encountered today. Research regarding parental disabilities
is limited. Many studies have small samples, so we are
not able to generalize the findings to the whole country. Also, most state child welfare organizations do
not collect parental disability data well. There is no centralized record keeping by
states on parents with disabilities. States are not required to record whether
a parent has disabilities or not. Lastly, disability is defined differently
in different programs. For example, the vast majority of state statutes
related to parental disability use outdated terminology, have imprecise definitions of
disability, and emphasize conditions rather than behaviors. Here are some things that we do know. According to the Survey of Income and Program
Participation data, we know that lots of people with disabilities have children. About 11% of parents, or 6.9 million parents
have a disability, and about 30% of adults with disabilities have a child living at home. In terms of types of disabilities, roughly
1 million parents had mental illness, and roughly 250,000 parents had intellectual or
developmental disabilities. It is worth noting that these figures are
probably underestimated. We also know that parents with disabilities
can become involved in child welfare and have their children removed through termination
of parental rights. Here is a study conducted by DeZelar and Lightfoot. They used a large administrative dataset,
the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, also called AFCARS, to explore
how the parental disability removal reason was used in public child welfare agencies
in the United States. They found that among all TPR cases, 19% of
TPR cases listed parental disability as one of the reasons for removing a child from his
or her parents. In about 5% of these cases, parental disability
is a sole removal reason. They also calculated the frequency statistics
of each state for both parental disability as a sole removal reason and parental disability
as at least one of the removal reasons. They found that the rates of using parental
disability as at least one of the removal reasons vary among states. In this table, we can see that some states
have the rate under 10%, such as Alaska, Indiana, and New York. Some states have the rate below average, and
the state of Minnesota is one of these states. Some states are above average, such as Wisconsin
and Arizona. We also can see that some states use parental
disability as at least one of the removal reasons very often. For example, the state of Ohio, about 54%
of TPR cases listed parental disability as at least one of the removal reasons. Also, there are variations regarding states
using parental disability as a sole removal reason. The majority of these states are below the
average, however, we can see that there are several states way above average. In the state of Ohio, we can see that about 20%
of the TPR cases listed parental disability as a sole removal reason. So, to quickly summarize what we learned from
those two tables, we can conclude that the rates of using parental disability as a removal
reason vary radically by states. For example, we can see that Ohio and Wisconsin
are way above average, and Minnesota and South Dakota are below average, and Illinois is
way below average. It is also important to know that, parents’
disability status may have impacts on children’s length of stay in foster care. In this graph, we can see that, when parental
disability is the only removal reason, children usually stay a longer time, on average, in
foster care compared to those removal cases where parental disability is one of the removal
reasons. And when parental disability is not a removal
reason, children usually stay a shorter time on average in foster care compared to those
removal cases where parental disability is one of the removal reasons or parental disability
is the sole removal reason. We can also look at the state of Minnesota. In terms of days in placement since the last
removal, when parental disability is one of the removal reasons, children, on average,
stay 626 days in foster care. When parental disability is not a removal
reason, children usually stay 404 days in foster care. This is about a 220 day difference. When we compare parental disability as a sole
removal reason versus parental disability as not a sole removal reason, We found that
when parental disability is the sole removal reason, children stay 580 days in foster care,
and when parental disability is not a sole removal reason, children stay 156 days less,
which is 424 days. Similarly, when we look at the length in current
foster care setting and total days in foster care, we also found that when parental disability
is one of the removal reasons, or is the sole removal reason, children usually spend a longer
time in foster care. And this is alarming. So, here comes the question. Do parents with disabilities abuse or neglect
their children at higher rates compared to other parents? While reviewing the studies related to this
area, we found that evidence is mixed. A study conducted by Azar, Stevenson, and
Johnson concluded that intellectual disabilities alone did not lead to higher rates of child
maltreatment. In their study, they recruited seventy-three
low socioeconomic status mothers from child protection service contract agencies and programs
that provide services to disadvantaged mother populations. They compared 43 mothers who had
CPS records for neglect and 30 mothers who did not have a history of child maltreatment. Their findings showed that parents with intellectual
disabilities appeared to be over-represented in the CPS system and were more likely to
be labeled as neglectful. However, intellectual disabilities alone do
not lead to higher risks of child maltreatment McGawa, Scully, and Pritchard also conducted
a study investigating the relationship between parental disability and child maltreatment. They conducted a secondary data analysis and
investigated 101 parents with intellectual disabilities and 172 of their children. They found that parents with intellectual
disabilities with physical or sensory deficits were more likely to abuse or neglect their
children compared to parents with intellectual disabilities with poor mental health. Lightfoot & Slayter conducted a secondary
data analysis study using the Collaborative Psychiatric Epidemiology Survey data. They investigated child maltreatment risk
factors of parents with disabilities. The findings showed that parents with disabilities
self-report a higher rate of a range of parental related risk factors that are commonly associated
with child maltreatment than parents without disabilities. However, they argued that because the pathway
of maltreatment is unclear, we cannot simply interpret the finding as parents with disabilities
are more likely to abuse their children. Rather, the findings from this study simply
suggest that because a parent has a disability, the parent is more likely to have a number
of risk factors related to child maltreatment, such as poverty and unemployment. So then, what do we know about the child outcomes? Again, because parents with disabilities are
a diverse group, the findings are mixed. For example, for parents with intellectual
disabilities, about 40% of their children were found to have a developmental delay, though
not all of them; 60% do not have a developmental delay. However, while we assume that it might be
because of lack of stimulation, when medical conditions and other conditions are taken
into account, these differences fall away. Also, some show equal child outcomes. For example, a study conducted in Australia
showed that children of a parent with multiple sclerosis did not differ on any of the outcomes
except for peer relationship problems. For example, adolescents of a parent with
multiple sclerosis reported lower peer relationship problems than other adolescents. Overall, results did not support prior research
findings suggesting adverse impacts of parental multiple sclerosis on youth. Thus, more use of population-based data is
helping to refine knowledge about outcomes. But, for now, we certainly can’t assume
worse child outcomes. So now, let’s quickly summarize what we
have talked about this part one. Parents with disabilities have been discriminated
against historically. And today, parents with disabilities are overrepresented
in child welfare systems. However, this does not mean that parents with
disabilities are more likely to abuse their children. Evidence is mixed in terms of parents with
disabilities and child maltreatment, and parents with disabilities and child outcomes. Congratulations. Now you have finished part one. If you’re ready, now you can go to part
two.

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