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Judge says state needs to do more to help parents with disabilities in child welfare cases

May 10, 2017

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The Michigan Supreme Court this week handed a big win to parents with disabilities in child welfare cases.

If the state removes a child from her home and puts her in foster care, generally the goal is to reunite the child and parent as soon as possible. The parent is given services and a plan with specific goals they have to meet before reunification, and if those goals aren't met, their parental rights can be terminated.

(To read more about what happens when a parents rights are terminated, read this story.) 

Historically the burden fell to the parent’s attorney to raise the issue of intellectual disability and get the plan modified, but the recent In re Hicks/Brown ruling places that burden on the the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Vivek Sankaran is a clinical law professor at the University of Michigan's Child Welfare Appellate Clinic, and he argued the case before the state supreme court. He says the court's decision will make the state's child welfare agency "far more active in addressing the needs of parents with disabilities," and result in more "fine-tuned" service plans for the parents. "When they know of a disability, they have to provide the right services for that family," says Sankaran.  The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing the decision and would not provide further comment.  The Michigan Supreme Court's decision in this case was unanimous, and the opinion was written by Judge Joan Larsen, who was recently nominated by President Donald Trump to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.