In a unique deal, the U.S. Department of Justice, Health, and Human Services say a state agreed to change its behaviors after repeatedly discriminating against parents with disabilities.
Under the agreement reached in late November, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families will not base decisions about removing a child on stereotypes or generalizations about people with disabilities, or on a parent’s disability, diagnosis, or intelligence measures (e.g., IQ scores) . alone.”
Rather, the state will make decisions based on an individual assessment. Even in cases where a child is removed from a parent with a disability, the parent should be allowed to participate in government agency services “unless the parent poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others” the document says.
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The settlement, dubbed a “landmark deal” by federal officials, is the Justice Department’s first to address disability discrimination by a state child protection agency and could have national implications.
“We believe this agreement will not only help thousands of families in Massachusetts, but will also provide a roadmap for children’s charities across the country on how to treat parents with disabilities with the fairness, dignity and respect they deserve,” said Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Department of Civil Rights at the Department of Justice.
The move comes five years after the Department of Justice, Health, and Human Services found the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families discriminated against a mother with intellectual disabilities when her newborn was removed from her and officials tried to exercise her parental rights terminate based on assumptions about their skills.
Federal officials said they later received numerous similar complaints against the Massachusetts agency from parents with physical, hearing, developmental, and other types of disabilities. In addition, families said the state had denied requests for reasonable changes and failed to provide equal access to programs and services. The Justice Department said it had investigated and substantiated many of the allegations.
“The stakes are never higher than when a parent has the opportunity to lose a child,” said Dreiband. “While children’s charities are faced with challenging and weighty decisions on a daily basis, they must always ensure that no child is removed from a parent due to unsupported stereotypes, discriminatory attitudes or other illegal reasons. This agreement will ensure that parents with disabilities are treated as individuals and that they receive the support and services they need to have an equal opportunity to maintain or regain custody of their children. “
The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families has committed to policy changes in the agreement, appointed coordinators to monitor compliance with disability rights laws, train staff in policies and procedures, and report to federal officials on handling requests for accommodation and complaints .
However, the state agency claims in the document that it “rejects all allegations of discrimination and allegations that DCF has violated the law”.
The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families said the current governor “purposely rebuilt” the agency “through a series of important reforms.”
“DCF continues to strive to continuously improve the way it serves children and families across the Commonwealth, including ADA protected families,” said an agency spokesman.