Responding to the Legal Needs of Parents with Psychiatric Disabilities: Insights from Parent Interviews
47 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2019 Last revised: 7 Feb 2020
Date Written: February 1, 2020
A growing body of scholarship demonstrates that parents with psychiatric disabilities and their families experience a range of inequalities that families with nondisabled parents do not suffer. Parents with psychiatric disabilities contend with pervasive discrimination within the child welfare and family law systems, often resulting in the removal of their children and loss of custody. Moreover, some children of parents with psychiatric disabilities experience worse outcomes than their peers, while others do not. Yet, despite extensive legal and social science scholarship focused on parents with psychiatric disabilities and their families, no studies have empirically examined the legal needs of parents with psychiatric disabilities as perceived by parents themselves.
This Article responds to the scholarly void and offers new and much-needed data on the real world-experiences of these parents. This study draws qualitative data from in-depth interviews with twelve former clients of a legal services program in Massachusetts that provides representation to parents with psychiatric disabilities. First, this study shows that the legal profession lacks understanding of mental health, which some parents believe negatively affects representation and case outcomes. Second, attorneys may need to provide parents with psychiatric disabilities assistance beyond litigation, including taking more time to explain the legal process, assisting with administrative tasks, and coordination with and referrals to other supports and services. Third, our data suggest that parents with psychiatric disabilities may have ongoing legal needs that require access to additional legal services beyond those related to the child welfare and family law systems. This Article concludes by identifying critical areas for further research and discussing the policy implications of the findings.
Keywords: disability law, family law
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