Terminating The Parental Rights Of Mothers With Disabilities: An Empirical Legal Analysis
38 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2020
Date Written: April 7, 2020
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: Suggested Citation