Despite the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, disabled people continue to face discrimination in many, if not all, walks of normal life. One area that often surprises the average person is in the realm of child custody, or the allocation of parental responsibilities as it is now called in Illinois. It is sadly not uncommon for disabled parents to lose their children once their disability is known to the state. The law in Illinois has improved over time, but there are still some potential hurdles in place that a disabled parent may struggle to overcome.
Cultural Bias Is Strong
It has been said that disabled parents are the only group that must commonly fight to retain (or even gain) custody of their own children. Data from the National Council on Disability show approximately 15 percent of parents who are physically disabled report unwanted interference or discriminatory treatment in custody cases, while the removal rate for children of those with developmental disability or mental illness is as high as 80 percent in some states. In approximately two-thirds of U.S. states, the mere existence of a parental disability is grounds for removal of a child from the home.
In many states, the only evidence necessary to put removal into motion is the prevailing stereotypes of disabled people as helpless or burdensome to their loved ones. The best interests of the child are generally held to be the most important issue in allocating parental responsibilities, and it is not unusual to hear the argument that it is not in the child’s best interest to be in a situation where they may have to be more self-sufficient than average because of a parent’s alleged inadequacies.
Changes in Illinois
In recent years, Illinois has made several modifications to its family law statutes to both assist disabled parents and to make it more difficult for children to be removed from loving homes solely because of parental disability. One significant act that took effect on January 1, 2018 is the Parental Rights for the Blind Act, which explicitly preserves the rights of blind and visually impaired parents unless the burden of proof can be met which shows that they are unfit parents for another reason besides disability.
Another change is that while disability is still listed in the Illinois Adoption Act as one of the grounds upon which a parent can be declared unfit, language requiring “competent evidence” from a professional in the field (such as a licensed clinical social worker, psychiatrist or clinical psychologist) has been added. Essentially, instead of the mere existence of disability being enough for removal, a connection must be shown between the parent’s disability and tangible harm being done to the child in order for removal to be considered appropriate.
Need Help Understanding Your Options?
If you are encountering resistance to your parental rights as a disabled person, enlisting a knowledgeable attorney can make a big difference. Contact an experienced Kane County family law attorney to discuss your situation and to explore your options. Call 630-377-7770 for a free consultation today.