Guest Author - Monica J. Foster
Did you know you can have a disability and qualify as an adoptive parent? Keep in mind, however, that while some adoption agencies will work with prospective adoptive parents who have disabilities, not all agencies will have the expertise or resources available to properly handle this kind of an adoption. It doesn't mean outright discrimination will occur, but that lack of knowledge may lead to difficulties in placing a child with parents experiencing disability. Naturally, there are some disabilities that may make it more difficult for a hopeful adoptive parent to provide constant care, supervision, and nurturing a child needs.
Adjustments and adaptations can be made so that an individual with the disability can parent. In making these difficult determinations, an agency will focus on the ability of the prospective parent to properly care for a child and to meet its needs throughout its childhood. It would not be in the best interests of the child to allow bonding with an adoptive parent to then find out later that the child must be separated and placed in another as the result of an inability to provide adequately for the child's care.
Although consideration is made on a case-by-case basis, do realize that no one possesses the absolute "right" to adopt, especially if the input of a birth parent is necessary in order for the adoption to be finalized. Naturally, one factor that can weigh heavily in favor of allowing an adoption to go forward, both for an agency and for a birthparent, would be if the parent (or parents) with a disability is already successfully parenting a child, or is a significant caregiver for the children of someone else.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), many people with disabilities qualify for consideration as adoptive parents. Quite simply, itís the law that applies to both public and private adoption agencies. Having some form of a disability does not categorically disqualify an adoptive parent from seeking to adopt a child. Although some adoption agencies will work with prospective adoptive parents who have disabilities, not all agencies will have the expertise or resources available to properly handle this kind of an adoption.
Madelyn Freundlich, former Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, writes that a "[c]ategorical rejection of individuals with disabilities as prospective adoptive parents on such bases as blindness, deafness . . . will violate the ADA and expose adoption agencies to liability."
However, it should be noted that a court case in New York in 1998 ruled that agencies may deny placement based on a prospective parent's disabilities. The court ruled that it is the job of the agency to find a suitable family for a child, not a child for a family. If a disability appears to be a legitimate concern, placement may be denied, as long as this is not part of a routine exclusion of prospective parents based on disabilities.
Title I and Title II of the ADA refer to public and private entities, respectively. Terms and definitions are the same in both Titles, and they also clearly apply to both public and private adoption services.
According to the ADA, an individual is considered "disabled" and is protected from discrimination if:
- he/she has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life abilities, or
- he/she has a record of such an impairment, or
- he/she is regarded as having such an impairment, which includes
- when an impairment is treated as if it limits major life abilities, or
- limited abilities as a result of attitudes of others about the impairment, or
- when no impairment exists but the individual is treated by others as though it does.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), major life abilities under the ADA include caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.
Christine Adamec advises people with disabilities seeking to adopt to stay focused on the options open to them and not take initial resistance as a personal affront. In her book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adoption", she says honesty and being open about any limitations arising from a disability are crucial, as is a frank discussion about how challenges are handled. It shows you know how to work around limitations, crises and problem solve well for the benefit of the child and yourself. And adoptive parents with disabilities should also know that they are not limited to adopting a child with a disability either.
Jamie Berke is an an adoptive parent and successful businessperson who is deaf, and she is the Guide to Deafness/Hard of Hearing at About.com. Her personal experience led her to establish a listing of deaf children awaiting adoption, the Deaf Adoption News Service. Noleen Kavanaugh adopted her daughter, Laura, from Romania. Noleen lives with cerebral palsy.
If you are an American with a disability, protection against discrimination offered under the ADA is nothing new for domestic adoption. However, many international adoption agencies may exclude parents who experience a disability based on the rules and regulations of the foreign country. It depends.
Check with the agency you want to work with and ask what the regulations are in the country you want to adopt a child from. For a prospective adoptive parent from another country seeking to adopt away youíre your home country, be sure to learn the laws that protect your rights as you look into adoption.