Working to Improve Outcomes for Parents and Children with Disabilities in Child Welfare

Created in 2011, the DCWC brings together practitioners and researchers from the fields of child welfare, disability, and education in an effort to improve outcomes for parents and children with disabilities in the child welfare system in Minnesota.

Goals

  • To raise awareness and understanding of the needs of children and parents with disabilities who are served in the child welfare, disability, and educational systems
  • To act as a resource to disability service providers, school districts, child welfare agencies, and other service providers so that they are able to work more effectively with young people and their families
  • To foster dialogue among service providers involved in supporting children and parents with disabilities in the child welfare system so that they may promote positive outcomes in all aspects of their lives (including educational stability and attainment; permanency and stability in living arrangements; and integrated, supportive, and appropriate disability services)

Downloadable Tools and Resources

Partners of the DCWC have developed the following fact sheets and guides during our work with community agencies and partners. These include:

CASCW’s website houses both downloadable resources as well as online training modules focused on a broad array of child-welfare related topics. Publications include both research and evaluation reports as well as materials aimed at practitioners, service providers, and family members. Publication topics include:

The online training modules at CASCW present the latest practice-relevant child welfare research from top researchers at the University of Minnesota in a format that is timely, efficient and easy to use. The modules are consistently updated. Topics include: Child welfare practice, child welfare workforce, working with refugees and immigrants, working with disabilities, and adolescent issues.

LEND Factsheets
Developed as part of a LEND fellowship (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities), these two single-page factsheets describe “what the disability community should know about working with child welfare” and “surrogate parent education.”

LEND Brief
From the MN LEND Program: “This LEND Brief focuses on recent changes around the diagnosis of ADHD from many different perspectives: developmental and behavioral pediatricians, clinical psychologists, school psychologists and parents.”


The publication Serving Children with Disabilities in the Child Welfare System from the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) focused on children with disabilities in the child welfare system. The issue examines the presence and needs of children with disabilities who are in the child welfare system, barriers to be addressed by the two systems and those who work in them, and strategies for moving forward in better meeting the needs of such children and their families.
Children with disabilities have specific rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other federal laws which require that children with disabilities receive special help to succeed in school. In addition, children in foster care are entitled to school stability under the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (Fostering Connections Act). This issue brief authored by the Legal Center for Foster Care and Education (American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law) provides an overview of these laws: How the IDEA and the Fostering Connections Act Can Work Together to Ensure School Stability and Seamless Transitions for Children with Disabilities in the Child Welfare System (PDF)
The ARC of the Twin Cities website houses many high-quality fact sheets (guides) about disability and disability issues that are available for download. The topics addressed include: abuse prevention, education issues, adult issues, human services, and other topics. The Arc of the Twin Cities Guides
View reports and publications from a longitudinal examination of outcomes of youth in three Midwestern states as they transition out of foster care and into adulthood: Midwest Study on Outcomes for Former Foster Youth (via Chapin Hall Center for Children)
The Child Welfare Information Gateway includes an extensive collection of downloadable factsheets and resources. Topics include Family Centered Practice, Child Abuse and Neglect, Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect, Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect, Out of Home Care, Adoption, and Supporting and Preserving Families (among others).
Eight fact sheets developed by the State of California’s Foster Youth Education Task Force address a variety of special education issues. Though published in 2005, much of the information is still relevant.
The Minnesota Disability Law Center website has a number of excellent fact sheets available on their website. They are primarily focused on legal issues that may arise for people with disabilities. Topics include assistive technology, employment, education, and civil rights.
The National Council on Disability’s 2012 report Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children provides a review of the barriers and supports people with diverse disabilities experience when they become parents, as well as persistent, systemic, and pervasive discrimination against parents with disabilities.

The report analyzes how U.S. disability law and policy apply to parents with disabilities in the child welfare and family law systems, and the disparate treatment of parents with disabilities and their children. Examination of the impediments prospective parents with disabilities encounter when accessing assisted reproductive technologies or adopting provides further examples of the need for comprehensive protection of these rights.

The DCWC has put together a list of organizations that may be helpful to you. Download the PDF here.

Frequently Asked Questions

The child welfare system is a group of public and private services that are focused on ensuring that all children live in safe, permanent and stable environments that support their well-being. Child welfare services may interact with entire families, or they may be focused on direct intervention with children.

The public child welfare system operates at the federal, state, and local levels. Additionally, many private and community-based organizations are involved in providing for children’s well-being. Thus, the child welfare system varies dramatically from state to state.

When the DCWC refers to child welfare, we are referring to any of the elements of this system. Thus, a family who is child welfare-involved may be receiving services but still be intact (family preservation), or the child or children may be removed from the home, either temporarily or permanently.

View the DCWC fact sheet: Definitions & Questions about Services: Child Welfare (PDF)

For more information about child welfare programs and services, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway at: https://www.childwelfare.gov/

Disability can be used very broadly, to refer to a wide array of diagnoses and conditions.

There are many different understandings and definitions of disability and disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a disability is:

  1. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;
  2. a record of such impairment; or
  3. being regarded as having such an impairment. (P.L. 101-336)

It is notable that the definition of disability does not specifically mention length of time for impairment, nor does it specify age.

The federal special education law (IDEA) defines a child as a disability as a child with an impairment that falls into one of thirteen categories:

  • autism;
  • deaf-blindness;
  • deafness;
  • emotional disturbance;
  • hearing impairment;
  • intellectual disability;
  • multiple disabilities;
  • orthopedic impairment;
  • other health impairment;
  • specific learning disability;
  • speech or language impairment;
  • traumatic brain injury; or
  • visual impairment (including blindness).

In order to qualify for special education services, the child’s education must be “adversely affected” by their disability.

When the DCWC uses the term “disability” we are generally working from the ADA definition.

View the DCWC fact sheet: Definitions & Questions about Services: Special Education & Other Services (PDF)

For more information on the ADA definition of disability: http://www.ada.gov/q&aeng02.htm

For more information on special education definitions of disability: http://nichcy.org/disability/categories

Children are generally referred to the child welfare system because a friend, family member or other concerned adult suspects that the child is experiencing maltreatment.

Definitions of child abuse and neglect are part of the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. Specifically, abuse and neglect refer to “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act that presents an imminent risk of serious harm” (https://www.childwelfare.gov/can/).

If you suspect a child is suffering from abuse or neglect, you can find information about how to report it here: http://www.childwelfare.gov/responding/how.cfm

If you are in Minnesota, call your county’s child protection and services office.

If it is an emergency, call 911.

For more information about definitions of abuse and neglect: http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/whatiscan.cfm

Many people think adoption and permanency mean the same thing.; however, it is more accurate to think of of permanency as a broad umbrella under which adoption fits. We all know what adoption means you go to court to say, “This person is a part of my family legally.” Adoption is legal permanency. But there are other types of permanency that include physical and emotional permanency. For children in the child welfare permanency may occur via:

  1. Return home
  2. Transfer of physical and legal guardianship
  3. Termination of parental rights and search for adoptive family
  4. Alternative Planned Permanency Living Arrangement (APPLA)

Permanency is not a single placement, it is not a plan, it is not a program. It is not what some call ‘long-term foster care’ or ‘permanent foster care’ – there is no such thing, as foster care is designed to be temporary. It is also not an Independent Living Skills class.

Permanency is a knowing, deep within, that you belong somewhere with someone even if you make a mistake, including a really bad mistake. Permanency requires relationships that are life-long and provide what any family might: being in a Last Will and Testament, hearing your name on the answering machine, having your picture on the family photo wall in someone’s house, knowing someone will walk you down the aisle (should you choose to get married and want that), realizing that the term ‘family vacation’ includes you, having people who will visit you regularly even if you are in jail.

If you are a worker in the child welfare field, here is a question you can ask yourself at a youth’s staffing meeting to determine whether or not that youth has permanency: Look around the room. Is there anyone in the room who is not paid to be there (this includes foster parents, guardians ad litem/CASAs, paid mentors)? If the answer is ‘no,’ then that youth does not have permanency.

Disability impacts child welfare clients in two primary ways- either because the child themselves have a disability and/or because their parents have disabilities. In either case, it is critical that child welfare providers are aware that many of the families that they are working with include people with disabilities.

Increased awareness of disability and disability issues are important for a number of reasons. First, research and anecdotal evidence have both shown that there are high numbers of people with disabilities involved in the child welfare system as clients; thus, it is likely that if you work with the child welfare system, you are already working with people with disabilities. Second, there are a number of community services and supports available to people with disabilities, which may be helpful in assisting clients in reaching their goals. Finally, best practice demands that we provide services that are “meet clients where they are”, meaning that we employ strategies for engagement, assessment, intervention, prevention, and evaluation that are inclusive and respectful of all of our clients’ needs and strengths.

Again, there are several ways that your work within the disability system and special education systems can interact with child welfare. You may be a special education teacher or school social worker who is working with a young person who is involved in the child welfare system. Or you may be a disability advocate who is working with parents who have become involved. Or there may be some other situation that has caused you to become aware of child welfare.

Regardless of the reason, data indicates that there is a high rate of overlap in clientele between the child welfare and disability serving systems. However, it is also clear that there is a great deal of “siloing” among systems, and that we often are not aware of the services, supports, and expertise that are available in other systems of care. As well, we may be making assumptions- for example, that a child has a permanent place to live, or that an adult with a disability is not able to parent, or that if independent living plans exist in one system that it is recognized in another. It is our hope that by raising awareness and fostering dialogue between systems, that we will begin to improve responses to children and families with disabilities who are child-welfare involved.

Our Partners

Contact DCWC

We hope that you will find all of this information helpful in your own work and that you will contact us if we can be of assistance, or to let us know about resources or expertise in your own area. Our email: dcwcollaborative@gmail.com
Our Partners