The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

The Prevalence of Parental Disabilities in Termination of Parental Rights Proceedings

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 9:45 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 008A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Traci LaLiberte, PhD, Executive Director, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Elizabeth Lightfoot, PhD, Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Purpose:  While there is a growing attention to how parents with disabilities fare in the child welfare system and in termination of parental rights (TPR) proceedings, there is little information about the prevalence of parental disability in child welfare cases in general, or in TPR cases in particular. Findings from other countries show that parents with disabilities are much more likely to be involved in the child welfare system than parents without disabilities (McConnell, Feldman, Aunos & Prasad, 2010). Child welfare agencies in the United States currently are not required to collect data on parental disability and most national surveys also do not collect this data either, so there are only estimates of parental disability and child maltreatment in the United States. The purpose of the current study was to explore the prevalence and disproportionality of parental disability among TPR cases using administrative data at the state level.

Method:   This study linked data from the Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) database in Minnesota with data from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) database. All parents identified in child welfare in SACWIS between the years of 2000-2009 were matched to their educational records in the MDE database to determine whether the parent had a disability label when they were in school. A risk ratio was calculated to measure disproportional representation of parental disability in TPRs and child welfare involvement among matched cases by comparing parents with child welfare involvement and TPRs in SACWIS to the population of people with and without a disability label in MDE.

Results: The study found that 28 percent of matched cases in the child welfare system involved a parent with a disability label in their MDE records, and 34.6 percent of matched TPR cases involved a parent with a disability in their MDE records. The risk ratio for having a TPR for a person with a disability label in their MDE records is 3.26, indicating that parents with a disability have a more than a three times greater probability for TPR than persons without a disability label in their MDE records.  Likewise, the risk ratio for having child welfare involvement for a parent with a disability label in their MDE records is 2.37, indicating a more than a two times greater probability of child welfare involvement than for people without a disability label in their MDE records. The Emotional or Behavioral Disorders  (EBD) label was the most common MDE disability label for parents with TPR in this study.  

Implications:  These findings have implications for both child welfare and disability services in regards to developing appropriate prevention models, disability sensitive assessments and interventions, as well as training of social workers regarding parental disability.  More research is needed to ascertain the extent and causes of disproportionality of parents with disabilities within the child welfare system, including examining both practice and policy related factors, as well as the types of services and supports needed for parents with disabilities.