Finding Solutions to the Termination of Parental Rights in Parents with Mental Challenges

34 Pages Posted: 25 Sep 2014 Last revised: 20 May 2015

Date Written: July 17, 2014


Building upon this author’s previous work applying the new theoretical framework of Family Systems Theory to termination of parental rights (TPR) cases in parents with mental challenges, New Jersey statutes and case law bear close examination as a focus jurisdiction. Too often, other states’ statutory presumptions of parental unfitness and statutory emphases on parental unfitness due to mental health can wrongfully lead to TPR. New Jersey’s legislature and courts are moving in the right direction by rejecting presumptions of unfitness due to parental mental health. In order for mentally challenged parents’ due process rights to be upheld, statutory schemes across the U.S. must be revisited to level the playing field.

The termination of parental rights in parents with mental challenges is a growing and crucial issue. In 2010, an estimated 45.9 million adults in the U.S. had experienced a mental illness in the past year. This represents 20% of the adult population. More than five million children in the U.S. have a parent with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. Courts and child welfare systems too often assume that a parent is not amenable to treatment and is a danger to his or her child when strong symptoms of mental turmoil surface. Some studies report that as many as 70 to 80% of mentally ill parents have lost custody. Public systems are overwhelmed by this matter in an era of shrinking resources for such systems. However, often parents with mental health needs are willing to accept treatment, are able to participate in programming, and are worthy of regaining custody.

Keywords: parent, termination of parental rights, child, child welfare, disability, mental, psychology, abuse, neglect, maltreatment, social service, family, vulnerability, systems theory

Suggested Citation

Smith, Charisa Kiyô, Finding Solutions to the Termination of Parental Rights in Parents with Mental Challenges (July 17, 2014). 39 Law & Psychology Rev. 207 (Spring 2015). Available at SSRN:
No contact information is available for Charisa Kiyô Smith

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