An intellectually disabled couple has lost custody of their children because of their disabilities. The ramifications of policies like this is frightening.
In Oregon, parents Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler have lost custody of their two sons – toddler Christopher and newborn Hunter – not because they were found to be abusive or neglectful, but because Fabbrini and Ziegler have limited cognitive abilities. The average IQ is 90-110; Fabbrini’s IQ is 72, or “extremely low to borderline range of intelligence” and Ziegler’s is 66, putting him in the “mild range of intellectual disability.” While the state won’t comment on the case citing privacy, Fabbrini and Ziegler took parenting classes, first aid and CPR training, and nutrition classes and had supervised visits with Christopher. When Hunter was born in February 2017, he was taken into state custody while in the hospital; he has never slept in the nursery his parents set up for him.
Fabbrini and Ziegler do not work, but live in a house owned by Ziegler’s parents; Leona Turner – Fabbrini’s aunt – is the state appointed supervisor for visitation with Hunter. Turner says she “honestly [doesn’t] understand why they can’t see their children” describing the visits as “loving.” A worker with the nonprofit MountainStar organization cited having to remind the parents to have Christopher wash his hands and failing to apply sunscreen to his whole body as cause for concern over the couple’s parenting skills.
Let that sink in: forgetting to have a toddler wash his hands and not applying sunscreen is now cause to question one’s parenting skills, at least in the state of Oregon. There isn’t a parent alive – on any range of the intellectual spectrum – who hasn’t done something incorrectly when it comes to parenting, who hasn’t forgotten to have a child wash his hands or put on sunscreen. There were no major claims of abuse or neglect against the parents, but minor parenting mistakes that any parent makes countless times in his or her life.
Susan Yuan, president of The Association for Successful Parenting, says states and agencies have limited experience working with individuals with intellectual disabilities, and “They (case workers) have very little experience of people with intellectual disabilities, and because all their orientation is for the safety of the child, they err on the side of overprotecting the child without realizing that the parent can do it. It’s coming from a good place, but they need more exposure to people with disabilities.” Meanwhile, a study from the National Council on Disability shows that 40-80% of parents with intellectual disabilities lose their parental rights. Yuan said that parenting skills often don’t decline until IQ drops below 50, and points out that people with IQs of 150 can be bad parents.
In 2013, Disability Rights Oregon attempted to pass legislation that would have barred the state from deeming a parent unfit based solely on illness or disability, including intellectual disability. The bill did not make it out of committee.
The removal of children from the home based solely on the intellectual abilities or disabilities of the parents is a violation of the rights of disabled individuals. Could a single mother lose custody of her children if she’s paralyzed in an accident and left physically disabled? Being confined to a wheelchair may impact her ability to parent, after all, so should the state step in and take her children from her for “their own good”? Should a father diagnosed with cancer have CPS come knocking on his door to take his children because his illness may impact his ability to raise his kids? Schools and the government have pushed to mainstream students with intellectual disabilities into the regular education classroom, in part because they want these students to have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers. Then the state turns around and tells those with disabilities they could lose their children because their IQ scores are not high enough.
America has a very dark history of eugenics and the forced sterilization of those deemed “unfit” – policies that lasted well into the 20th century and ones that costs states hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in settlements to the survivor victims of such treatment. In Buck v. Bell¸ Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote “three generations of imbeciles is enough” when ruling to uphold a Virginia law that allowed the state to surgically sterilize “mental defectives” without their consent. At least 20,000 people were sterilized in California, either forcibly or without giving consent; in North Carolina 7,600 were sterilized.
Stripping the intellectually disabled of parental rights is a step backward to the days of these horrific eugenic policies, and it is fundamentally no different to terminate the parental rights of an individual simply because of his or her IQ scores than it is to terminate their parental rights by sterilizing them. Both are an affront to the dignity of the person and their Constitutional rights.
If you think there aren’t other avenues by which the state would interfere with your parenting, think again. An anti-tobacco lawyer, John F. Branzhaf, said that parents who smoke around their children should lose custody, and argued doctors who do not report parents who smoke to authorities for child abuse could be sued. This mentality can easily be applied to parents who drink, even socially, or parents who are overweight (or the parents of overweight kids) or otherwise engaged in “unhealthy” lifestyle choices without posing any threat or danger to the well being of their children.
More pressing, given the push for politically correct ideologies – such as transgenderism in children or same sex marriage – could parents who profess certain political or religious beliefs be deemed mentally unwell and lose their ability to parent? Foster parents in other nations have been barred from caring for children for expressing such opinions; it only makes sense that the next logical step is biological parents. If you don’t think your seven-year-old boy should transition to a girl, could you lose custody for abuse? If you think marriage is between a man and a woman, could CPS push to terminate your rights and move to put your children up for adoption?
There are countless stories of child protective services failing to protect abused children (as chronicled here), while going after innocent parents for doing things that are not neglectful or abusive. When the state broadens its parameters to define neglect, abuse, and what constitutes unfit parenting to a vast spectrum, we are all of us “unfit” parents. Yet that behemoth continues apace, ruining lives and flouting both law and the Constitution in the pursuit of the “greater good.”
Image: The Oregonian/Twitter