Parenting rights: Idaho can brag about more than spuds

David Lord
Director of Public Policy

It's time to follow the lead of a progressive state that is championing the rights of parents with disabilities. The name of that state is Idaho.

That's right: Idaho.

A few years back, in 2002 and 2003, Idaho enacted changes in their laws that protect the rights of parents with disabilities.

A Legacy of Discrimination

The right of people with disabilities to have children and raise a family has long been denied. More than eighty years ago, in the case of Buck v. Bell, the United States Supreme Court upheld a compulsory sterilization law. Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr., referring to the parent, Carrie Buck, declared, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

We have made some progress since then - this case is no longer followed - but the underlying attitudes against parents with disabilities are alive today. There are instances where the child is taken by authorities at the hospital, shortly after birth, and put on a fast-track for adoption. When parenting classes or other support servies are offered, the are often not accessible.

The Idaho Story

Kelly Buckland, Director of the Idaho State Indpendent Living Council, made it clear that changing the law to protect the rights of parents with disabilities was not an easy task. It took years of work by advocates acting in a broad, cross-disability coalition.

To educate legislators, parents with disabilities explained how they successfully raised their children, sometimes with the assistance of personal assistants or adaptive equipment.

Legislators came to understand that prejudice, not disability, was the barrier to successful parenting.

The hard work paid off. In 2002 and 2003, Idaho enacted legislation that:

  • removes inappropriate disability language from divorce, separation, adoption, termination of parental rights and guardianship law;
  • grants a parent with a disability the right to present evidence on how adaptive equipment or suport services enabled a parent to raise a child; and
  • establishes protections against discriminatory actions based on a parent's disability in child protection legal proceedings.

Idaho remains a fiscally conservative state, and these changes don't fund new or tailored supports that some parents need as they raise their children. However, these changes are significant, and will help parents with disabilities keep their children. For example, under the new law, disability cannot be considered a 'risk factor' when Child Protective Services evaluates an Idaho parent. Unfortunately, this is not true in Washington.

In Washington

Just across the Idaho border, in Spokane, advocates have been meeting for several months. This group currently includes the Arc of Spokane, CORD, local attorneys and social workers and DRW. They are especially concerned about instances of newborns taken from parents with disabilities. In addition, there is very limited accessible parenting support in Spokane, or anywhere in Washington.

Washington advocates can draw inspiration and hope from the legislative accomlishments in Idaho. The proud source of our French fries has blazed a trail of advocacy for us to follow. Washington just needs to ketchup.

David Lord is a native of the Gem State, Idaho.

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