Recommended Reading: Parenting with a Disability

October 16, 2023

Two recent publications address unnecessary challenges faced by parents with disabilities and how those challenges are made extraordinary by a legal system that is not protecting parents or their children.

Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children

The National Council on Disability report finds that roughly 4 million parents in the U.S. who are disabled (about 6% of parents) are the only distinct community that must struggle to retain custody of their children. 

While we have moved (somewhat) beyond the blatant eugenics of the 20th century, some of those tactics persist. Further, “parents with disabilities are the only distinct community of Americans who must struggle to retain custody of their children.” This is also connected to other intersectional factors. For example, “Because children from African American and Native American families are more likely to be poor, they are more likely to be exposed to mandated reporters as they turn to the public social service system for support in times of need…”

Research has shown that exposure bias is evident at each decision point in the child welfare system.

Under the Watchful Eye of All: Disabled Parents and the Family Policing System’s Web of Surveillance

Author Robyn Powel details how the child welfare system employs extensive surveillance that disproportionately targets marginalized families. Yet centers for independent living and other existing programs have the potential to support these parents. Instead, “The child welfare system, more accurately referred to as the family policing system, employs extensive surveillance that disproportionately targets marginalized families, subjecting them to relentless oversight.”

One particular story in that article highlights the role of technology in this ‘policing’: “…just as the Hackneys were preparing to bring [their 8 month old] home, the Allegheny County DHS [alleged] negligence due to [the parents’] disabilities… More than a year later, their toddler remains in the foster care system, an excruciating separation for the Hackneys. The couple is left questioning whether DHS’ use of a predictive artificial intelligence (“AI”) tool unfairly targeted them based on their disabilities.”

As technologists, we wonder whether this AI tool was tested for racial or disability bias. It is essential that the technologies we create are equitable before they are deployed.