Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)
Methods: This study used legal document analysis, consisting of a comprehensive Boolean search of the state codes of the 50 states and D.C. relating to TPR, using the most recent state code available on Lexis-Nexis in August 2005. TPR and related statutes were searched for contemporary and historical disability related terms and their common cognates, such as: “mental”, “disability”, “handicap”, and “incapacity”. Two researchers independently conducted the searches, and the searches were reconciled. A code list was then developed to measure for inclusion of disability, preciseness, scope, use of language, and references to accessibility or fairness. Statutes were then reanalyzed, and groupings developed.
Results: Thirty-six states included disability-related grounds for termination of parental rights, while 15 states did not include disability language as grounds for termination. All of the states that include disability in their grounds for termination specify explicit types of disabilities for courts to consider, including mental illness (36 states), intellectual or developmental disability (32 states), emotional illness (18 states), and physical disability (7 states). Many of these state codes used outdated terminology, imprecise definitions, and emphasized disability status rather than behavior. All of the fifteen states that do not include disability in TPR grounds allowed for termination based on neglectful parental behavior that may be influenced by a disability.
Implications: Parents with disabilities may be discriminated against in TPR proceedings if courts remove children on the basis of parental disability, rather than on the basis of parental behavior. States should reconsider the inclusion of disability in TPR codes. At the very minimum, states should update the disability-related terminology and definitions in their TPR codes.
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