STATE HOUSE — The Senate recently passed Sen. Louis P. DiPalma’s (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) legislation (2020-S 2139) that precludes the disability of a parent from serving as a basis for denial or restriction in matters involving a child’s welfare, foster care, family law, guardianship, and adoption.
“Individuals with disabilities continue to face unfair, preconceived, and unnecessary societal biases, as well as antiquated attitudes regarding their ability to successfully parent their own children. This leads to new parents with disabilities being unnecessarily referred to social workers and governmental staff for evaluations of their parenting abilities to provide proper care and environments for their children, based solely upon erroneous assumptions about the parent’s disability. This is unfair, unjust, and may also have serious effects on children who may be denied the opportunity to live in a loving home with parents or caretakers who also have disabilities. Our society is strongest with strong family environments so we should not eliminate loving homes for our kids simply because a parent has a disability,” said Senator DiPalma.
The purpose of the legislation is to protect the best interests of children who have parents with disabilities by establishing procedural safeguards that require adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act. This would include education of hospital, child protective services and judicial staff in the equal protection rights of parents with disabilities in the context of child welfare, foster care, family law, and adoption.
The legislation states that a parent’s disability cannot serve as the basis of referral to a hospital social worker or the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. The parent’s disability cannot serve as the basis for the denial or restriction of visitation and custody either if the child’s best interests are taken into account.
Also, when a parent’s disability is alleged to have a detrimental impact on a child, the party raising the allegation bears the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence that the behaviors are, or will likely, endanger the health, safety, and welfare of the child.
Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) is the sponsor of the companion legislation (2020-H 7295) in the House of Representatives.
Senator DiPalma’s bill has been referred to the House Health, Education, and Welfare Committee.