In Rhode Island, a parent’s disability can no longer be the sole basis to deny or restrict their rights in matters involving a child’s welfare, foster care, family law, guardianship or adoption. Nor can it be used as the sole basis for an investigation.
Gov. Dan McKee (D) last month signed legislation to that effect, codifying that parents maintain their rights under the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, which defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, without naming all disabilities covered.
The new law (SB 56 and HB 5394) protects the best interests of children who have parents with disabilities by establishing procedural safeguards, including the education of hospital, child protective services and judicial staff in the equal protection rights of parents with disabilities in with regard to child welfare, foster care, family law and adoption, according to McKee’s office.
Such parents will be entitled to supportive services as long as keeping the family intact is judged to be in the child’s best interests.
At a bill-signing ceremony in the State House in Providence, bill sponsors state Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D) and state Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D) argued that parents with disabilities are too often unfairly subject to systemic scrutiny of their parenting skills merely on the basis of outdated societal assumptions about their disabilities.
“A person's disability does not, and should not, get in the way of providing a loving home,” McKee said. “This legislation protects parents who want to be there for their children. It protects children who want to remain with their parents. And it protects families — most particularly the numerous Rhode Island families with one or two parents who have a disability.”