Terminating The Parental Rights Of Mothers With Disabilities: An Empirical Legal Analysis

38 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 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

Michael Evan Waterstone

Loyola Law School Los Angeles; Northwestern University - School of Law

Stephen Fournier

Brandeis University - The Heller School for Social Policy and Management

Date Written: April 7, 2020

Abstract

A sizable body of scholarship indicates parents with disabilities — including physical, intellectual, psychiatric, and sensory disabilities — experience pervasive inequities that threaten their fundamental right to parenthood. In particular, compared to non-disabled parents, parents with disabilities are over-represented in the child welfare system, receive inadequate family preservation and reunification services, and have disproportionate rates of termination of parental rights. Despite extensive legal and social science scholarship, however, there are no empirical analyses of judicial opinions to identify factors that predict termination of parental rights in cases involving parents with disabilities.

This is the first empirical legal study to analyze appellate decisions to determine predictors of termination of parental rights in appeals cases that included mothers with disabilities. In particular, we sought to understand whether a mother’s disability type was associated with the termination of parental rights. To that end, this study analyzed 2,064 appellate opinions decided between 2006 and 2016. We found that 93% of the cases resulted in the termination of parental rights. After controlling for a variety of parent, family, court, case, and policy characteristics, however, maternal disability type did not predict termination of parental rights. Nevertheless, the odds of termination of parental rights were higher for cases in which parents had substance use histories, household incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, prior child welfare system involvement, negative expert testimony, or received family preservation and reunification services tailored to parents with disabilities. Conversely, the likelihood of termination of parental rights was decreased in cases that included positive expert testimony or were decided in the Southeast or West. The Article concludes by discussing the policy and practice implications of the study’s findings and identifying critical areas for further research.

Keywords: Disability, Child Welfare, Law, Family Law, Americans With Disabilities Act, ADA, Empirical

JEL Classification: K36, K00, Z18, K41

Suggested Citation

Powell, Robyn and L. Parish, Susan and Mitra, Monika and Waterstone, Michael Evan and Fournier, Stephen, Terminating The Parental Rights Of Mothers With Disabilities: An Empirical Legal Analysis (April 7, 2020). Missouri Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3570938

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

Michael Evan Waterstone

Loyola Law School Los Angeles ( email )

919 Albany Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015-1211
United States

Northwestern University - School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-1855 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.northwestern.edu/faculty/profiles/MichaelWaterstone/

Stephen Fournier

Brandeis University - The Heller School for Social Policy and Management

P.O. Box 549110/MS 035
415 South Street
Waltham, MA 02454
United States

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