This May, as the nation recognizes National Foster Care Month, the National Council on Disability (NCD) calls upon the President, Congress, state legislatures, policymakers, advocates, and child welfare agencies, to draw attention to the rights and needs of the disability community – particularly parents with disabilities and children and youth with disabilities living in foster care.
This year’s theme is “Building Blocks Toward Permanent Families,” which recognizes the many individuals (or “blocks”) involved in supporting children and youth in foster care and building strong, permanent families. For some children and youth, permanence is found through family reunification. For others, permanence is achieved through adoption.
Despite the growing need for foster and adoptive parents for the more than 400,000 children living in the foster care system, prospective parents with disabilities remain an untapped resource. In 2012, NCD’s Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Children, showed that the foster care and adoption systems are riddled with discriminatory practices that forestall prospective parents with disabilities the opportunity to open their hearts and homes to children who so desperately need them.
Equally, it is imperative for the child welfare system to prevent unnecessary foster care placements resulting from bias and disparate treatment and instead promote safe reunification for parents with disabilities and their children. As detailed in NCD’s Rocking the Cradle, parents with disabilities and their families are frequently, and often unnecessarily, forced into the system and, once involved, lose their children at disproportionately high rates. Indeed, with removal rates as high as 80%, the children of parents with disabilities are unjustly overrepresented in foster care. Moreover, NCD’s Rocking the Cradle found that children of parents with disabilities often linger in foster care for longer periods because of discriminatory practices that prevent appropriate reunification. Notably, according to Casey Family Programs, for every $6 spent to maintain children in foster care, only $1 is available to be invested in a wider array of services that prevent the need for foster care. 
Accordingly, NCD urges the immediate implementation of Rocking the Cradle’s recommendations to promote opportunities for prospective foster and adoptive parents with disabilities and eradicate practices that cause unnecessary foster care placements and prevent swift reunification for parents with disabilities and their children.
Moreover, NCD calls upon state legislatures to pass legislation that would prohibit discrimination against parents with disabilities and their children in accordance with the model legislation in Rocking the Cradle. NCD commends Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Washington, and Oregon for passing legislation that ensures the rights of parents with disabilities as well as Massachusetts, who is currently considering legislation based on Rocking the Cradle. NCD urges all states to eliminate disability from their child welfare laws as grounds for termination of parental rights and enact comprehensive legislation based on the model legislation in Rocking the Cradle.
Likewise, NCD calls attention to the needs and rights of children and youth with disabilities in foster care. In 2008, NCD issued a comprehensive report Youth with Disabilities in the Foster Care System: Barriers to Success and Proposed Policy Solutions finding, “While the federal investment in the multiple systems with which these youth come in contact is significant, the disconnectedness and lack of coordination across programs and agencies call into question the effectiveness of government efforts.” Six years later, the problems remain. Although an estimated one-third of children and youth in foster care have a disability, this population remains underserved. Thus, NCD renews its call to action: Our nation must make a strong commitment to support children and youth with disabilities living in foster care and take the steps necessary to ensure that a safe, healthy, and positive transition to adulthood is planned for as the end goal.
Indisputably, foster care is both a child welfare issue and a disability issue. Thus, a strong collaboration between the child welfare and disability communities is vital. Further, NCD urges the President, Congress, state legislatures, policymakers, advocates, and child welfare agencies, to draw attention to the rights and needs of the disability community – particularly parents with disabilities and children and youth with disabilities living in foster care.
About the National Council on Disability (NCD): NCD is an independent federal agency of 15 Presidentially-appointed Council Members and full-time professional staff, who advise the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policy, programs, and practices. Members are appointed by the President, from diverse backgrounds across the nation, and the disability spectrum.
- Issued May 16, 2014
 Casey Family Programs, “Moving toward Hope,” (2013), accessed May 6, 2014,http://www.casey.org/resources/publications/ar/download/downloadpdf.htm.
 Children’s Rights and United Cerebral Palsy, “Forgotten Children: A Case for Action for Children and Youth with Disabilities in Foster Care,” (2006), accessed May 6, 2014,http://www.childrensrights.org/policy-projects/foster-care/children-with-disabilities-in-foster-care/2/.