December 4, 2019
HHS OCR Secures Voluntary Resolution and Ensures Child Welfare Programs in the Oregon Department of Human Services Protect Parents with Disabilities from Discrimination
Today, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that it has entered into a voluntary resolution agreement (VRA) with the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) concerning the rights of parents with disabilities in ODHS Child Welfare Programs (CWP). OCR initiated a compliance review of ODHS following news reports and a complaint from an advocate alleging that ODHS removed two infant children from a mother and father with disabilities and denied the parents effective and meaningful opportunities to reunite with their children due in significant part to their allegedly having IQ (intelligence quotient) scores that were too low.
According to the parents, ODHS CWP removed their children shortly after their births based on stereotypical beliefs and discriminatory assumptions about their ability to safely care for their children. The parents participated in services required by ODHS CWP to regain custody of their children, including psychological evaluations, parenting classes, and supervised visitation. In December of 2017, the local county circuit court dismissed ODHS's neglect petition involving the younger of the two children, terminated ODHS's legal custody and ordered reunification with the parents after approximately 10 months of separation. In January of 2018, the circuit court denied ODHS's petition to terminate the parents' rights to the older child and ordered reunification with the parents after 4 years of separation.
Following data requests and an on-site investigation of ODHS CWP regional offices, OCR identified systemic deficiencies regarding ODHS CWP's implementation of its disability rights policies, practices, and procedures to prevent discrimination against parents with disabilities in Oregon's child welfare system. After OCR conveyed these concerns to ODHS, ODHS expressed willingness to work with OCR to ensure full compliance with its federal civil rights obligations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In November 2019, ODHS agreed to a VRA that requires ODHS to comply with disability rights laws with respect to termination of parental rights, update its policies and procedures, create a new disability rights training plan, and provide assurances of its compliance with Section 504 and Title II. During the term of the VRA, OCR will monitor ODHS CWP's compliance with Section 504 and Title II and will be available to provide technical assistance.
"A mother's and father's love can overcome a multitude of challenges, and a state should only remove children from their parents based on actual evidence of abuse or neglect, not stereotypes. Parents with intellectual or other disabilities should not be presumed to be unable to care for their own children," said OCR Director Roger Severino. "OCR appreciates ODHS's willingness to take affirmative steps to ensure compliance with Section 504 and Title II and its recognition of the important role of disability rights in the child welfare system," Severino concluded.
To read the full agreement text, click here.
For more information about discrimination on the basis of disability, visit: www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/disability.
To learn more about protections from discrimination in the child welfare system, visit: www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/special-topics/adoption
To learn more about HHS OCR, as well as find information on filing a complaint, visit us at https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights
Follow HHS OCR on Twitter @HHSOCR.