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

See all articles by Robyn Powell

Robyn Powell

Stetson University College of Law; Brandeis University - The Heller School for Social Policy and Management

Susan L. Parish

Northeastern University, Bouvé College of Health Sciences

Monika Mitra

Brandeis University

Joanne Nicholson

Brandeis University

Date Written: February 1, 2020

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Powell, Robyn and L. Parish, Susan and Mitra, Monika and Nicholson, Joanne, Responding to the Legal Needs of Parents with Psychiatric Disabilities: Insights from Parent Interviews (February 1, 2020). 38 Law & Ineq. 69 (2020), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3376163

Robyn Powell (Contact Author)

Stetson University College of Law ( email )

1401 61st Street South
Gulfport, FL 33707
United States

Brandeis University - The Heller School for Social Policy and Management ( email )

MA
United States

Susan L. Parish

Northeastern University, Bouvé College of Health Sciences

United States

Monika Mitra

Brandeis University

Waltham, MA 02454
United States

Joanne Nicholson

Brandeis University

Waltham, MA 02454
United States

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