2-Day-Old Baby Placed in Foster Care Because Mom Has Mild Disability

baby holding mom's finger

Can disabled moms raise their own kids? That's the question sparked by the recent case of a Massachusetts mother with a developmental disability who had her 2-day-old newborn taken away from her two years ago when she was 19. Since then, the mom, known in court documents as "Sara Gordon," has been fighting for custody of her child, and courts claim she's faced unfair discrimination due to her disability.

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According to court documents, Sarah suffers from a "mild" disability, which makes it difficult to read and follow verbal instructions. When officials from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) were called in to the hospital to observe Sarah with her daughter, Dana, they noted that the new mom missed a feeding because she struggled to read an analog clock, then did not properly burp her child. Due to these shortcomings, the newborn was placed in foster care.

Now, I get why this is a sticky issue: if a disabled parent drops the ball in a way that puts her kids' welfare at risk, then obviously they're better off elsewhere. Still, though, shouldn't parents with disabilities be given an opportunity to prove they're up to the task before they're written off?

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During my first few days as a mom, I am sure that I was no worse than Sarah -- losing track of time, failing miserably at burping my baby. What's the big deal? These are typical missteps for any mom, disabled or otherwise -- not a reason to whisk a baby away. Yet the DCF swooped in and grabbed Dana immediately, the way they would if a mom was, say, a crack addict. Sara wasn't even given a chance!

And Sara is hardly alone: in the US, there are roughly 4.1 million parents with both mental and physical disabilities; many struggle to retain custody of their kids. Anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of parents with intellectual disabilities have lost custody of their children, while 13 percent of parents with physical disabilities have reported discriminatory treatment in child custody as well.

The bright side? Thanks to Sara, the federal government has finally stepped in to say that the 25-year-old Americans With Disabilities Act -- which gives individuals with disabilities the right to live, work, and pursue happiness in their communities -- applies to parenting as well. I hope these efforts give Sara and others with disabilities a chance to prove they can parent their kids and any added support they may need to live up to this task. Because let's be honest: people with disabilities can do extraordinary things; I think parenting can easily be one of them. 

How do you feel about developmentally disabled moms raising their own kids?

 

Image via DGPICTURE/shutterstock

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