People often joke about how you shouldn’t be able to have children unless you “pass a test.” Some even seriously write about it. But the parental and disability rights debate became a reality with one mom in Massachusetts, according to a story in New York magazine.
Sara Gordon gave birth to her daughter, Dana, in 2012. The baby’s father relinquished parental rights, which meant that then 19-year-old Sara was going to raise her daughter with the help of her parents. She has an IQ of 70, and until three years ago, her condition was listed in the DSM as “mental retardation.” According to New York magazine, she can read, but would rather not, can only tell time on a digital clock, and needs help taking medicine.
Unfortunately, that also means when her daughter was born, she was unable to fully understand the feeding chart, and missed a scheduled feeding. When the nurses noticed this, they called the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, or DCF. At this point, Scott Henderson, a social worker, declared Dana to be in unsafe conditions, as Sara forgot to burp and clean the baby, and struggled to change Dana’s diaper during his visit.
Following a judge’s verdict, 11-day-old Dana was placed in permanent foster care, where Sara was only allowed to see her daughter for one hour each week, with the help of her own mother under the supervision of a social worker. Sara desperately wanted to have custody of her child again, so she complied with the DCF:
“So she checked DCF’s boxes: She attended individual therapy and parenting classes and practiced diapering on baby dolls. She stayed in school. On her own initiative, she took and passed a CPR course.”
Despite this, the DCF decided not to give Sara custody, and Dana remained with her foster family, the Fox’s. While it was reported that this decision was made because of Sara’s disability, it is hard not to wonder if the choice was also made because Sara’s own parents had a history of DCF investigation and intervention in the ‘90s. During Sara’s supervised visits, it was noted that it took her 15 minutes to change Dana’s diaper, and that when Dana began to walk, she let her bump her head.
But Sara wasn’t to be deterred. In 2014, she filed a discrimination suit against the DCF with the help of Kelly Buckland, who is the executive director of the National Council on Independent Living. Buckland feels parents with disabilities should be assessed individually, not based on generalizations:
“This is the most fundamental of human rights: the ability to reproduce and raise your children…not that all disabled people make good parents, it’s that their parenting should be assessed on the merits and not on the basis of their disability.”
In November 2014, Sara finally was able to voice her feelings during her “foster care review,” telling New York magazine how it went:
“How would you feel? I forget how I worded it, but I was like, ‘What did I do to deserve my kid being taken away? I did nothing wrong.’ And they all just paused for I’d say probably like five minutes. It was quiet in that room. Quiet.”
After the review session, the DCF’s decision was reversed, and the DOJ and HHS actually issued a letter about Sara’s case in January 2015 that found “extensive, ongoing violations” of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Sara now lives with her daughter Dana, along with her parents.