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Disabled parents sometimes struggle to retain custody

Parents with disabilities in Louisiana and across the U.S. lose child custody more often than non-disabled parents, according to a new report by an independent federal agency.

The National Council on Disability's 445-page document has been embraced by advocacy groups for the disabled as a call to change the bias they say exists against parents who suffer from physical or mental conditions.

One activist for the autistic who holds membership on the disability council said parents with disabilities are the only group that must consistently fight to hold on to or gain custody of their kids. He said that burden should be lifted off the disabled immediately.

The report said that most states have laws that allow judges to declare parents unfit because of a disability. It also states that terminating parental rights on the grounds of disability is in direct violation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the report, an estimated 6 million children in the United States have parents with a disability. Parents with either a physical or mental disability are more likely than other parents to lose custody in a divorce. Additionally, they have roadblocks when trying to adopt a child or when seeking to undergo fertility treatments.

For parents with disabilities classified as intellectual or psychiatric, the risk of losing custody can reach as high as 80 percent. While some experts in child welfare said disabled parents can make fine parents, in some cases the best interest of the child requires removal from parental care, as tough as those calls are to make. Neglect and mistreatment can creep into a family when a parent is disabled and requires action, some experts said.

Custody of kids with a disabled parent should be decided on a case by case basis, just as it is with parents investigated by the state or county for other reasons. The advocacy groups are right that social workers should not rush to judgment about a family situation because of a disability. They can show hundreds of examples of successful families led by a disabled parent.

Source: Associated Press, "Disabled Parents Often Lose Custody Of Children, Report Finds," David Crary, Nov. 26, 2012

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