Today, West Coast LEAF released “Able Mothers: The intersection between parenting, disability and the law.”
Part of the inspiration for this report was the story of Maricyl Palisoc and Charles Wilton, a Mississauga couple who became new parents to a healthy baby boy in 2012. Both Maricyl and Charles have cerebral palsy, a disorder that limits their motor skills and slurs their speech, but has no effect on their cognitive abilities. Within days of the child’s birth, a child welfare worker ruled that those physical disabilities made them unfit parents, and obtained a warrant to remove the child from the home.
The family was fortunate to have a strong community who stepped in to help them meet the agency’s demands, and the parents retained custody of their child. However, our research shows that for many disabled parents, discriminatory assumptions about their ability to parent too often inform the decisions of social workers, judges, and others involved in their lives, with negative impacts on both parents and their children.
Our report takes a critical look at the discriminatory misconceptions and stereotypes that too often influence decisions affecting mothers with disabilities. It also makes recommendations for law and policy reforms to better protect the dignity, equality, and rights of disabled mothers and women seeking to become mothers.
Like all mothers, mothers with disabilities need support to provide for the best interests of their children. Disabled mothers have distinct parenting needs, from adapted cribs and change tables for mothers with mobility limitations, to flashing baby monitors for mothers with hearing impairments, to treatment for substance use issues that do not require a mother to place her child into foster care.
Rather than removing children from their disabled parents, government should be providing the supports necessary so that parents can provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children. In fact, it has a legal obligation to do so. However, our research shows that the government is failing to meet its obligation to support parents and the best interests of children. Many disabled mothers live in poverty and lack access to affordable and accessible housing, child care, transit and legal assistance. They also face high rates of violence, yet many transition houses are unable to accommodate them, putting the custody of their children at risk.
The overarching recommendation in this report is that the state must provide the supports necessary to ensure that children are able to remain with their parents when it is in their best interests to do so. The legal rights of both children and their mothers-the rights of children to be raised in a supportive and loving environment, and the rights of mothers not to be discriminated against because of their perceived disabilities-demand nothing less.
We’ll be holding a panel discussion on this topic tomorrow evening (Thursday, September 25) at our Annual General Meeting. We hope you’ll join us.