The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) today issued joint technical assistance to state and local child welfare agencies and courts on the requirements of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The technical assistance released today is part of a new partnership between HHS and DOJ to help child welfare agencies protect the welfare of children and ensure compliance with nondiscrimination laws. The letter announcing this partnership and technical assistance is available here.
The technical assistance addresses disability discrimination complaints that HHS and DOJ have received from parents who have had their children taken away from them as well as individuals who have not been given equal opportunities to become foster or adoptive parents. Noting that the goals of child welfare and disability non-discrimination are complementary, the technical assistance provides an overview of Title II of the ADA and Section 504 and examples about how to apply them in the child welfare system, including child welfare investigations, assessments, guardianship, removal of children from their homes, case planning, adoption, foster care, and family court hearings, such as termination of parental rights proceedings. It also underscores that Title II and Section 504 prohibit child welfare agencies from acting based on unfounded assumptions, generalizations, or stereotypes regarding persons with disabilities.
“Ensuring nondiscrimination in the child welfare system is an Office for Civil Rights (OCR) priority and we’re very pleased to join with the HHS Administration on Children and Families and the Department of Justice in this important initiative,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Director, HHS Office for Civil Rights. “It’s particularly fitting that we are beginning this initiative with guidance on the rights of parents and prospective parents with disabilities given our recent investigation with the Department of Justice in this area and as we commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the ADA. This guidance will help ensure that parents and prospective parents are not discriminatorily deprived of custody of their children, or denied the opportunity to adopt or serve as foster parents, because of stereotypes and unfounded assumptions about persons with disabilities, which we have seen in our complaints.”
“This technical assistance reflects an important milestone in the ongoing effort to realize equality for individuals with disabilities in all aspects of our society,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. “The ADA and Section 504 ensure that all government providers of programs, activities, and services treat people with disabilities in a fair and equal manner. State and local agencies and courts are our partners in defending the rights of people with disabilities, and this guidance gives them an improved understanding of how to uphold those rights more effectively.”
“Providing this technical assistance to state and local agencies and courts will help ensure that families who have a member with a disability get equal access to vital child welfare services,” said Mark Greenberg, HHS’ Administration for Children and Families’ Acting Assistant Secretary.
The Children’s Bureau in the HHS Administration for Children and Families (ACF) administers funding for child welfare agencies and courts. ACF also provides guidance and technical assistance to child welfare agencies regarding child welfare law. The HHS Office for Civil Rights and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department are responsible for protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities by enforcing Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, and require providers of government programs, services, and activities to make reasonable modifications to their policies and practices when necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless such modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the program or the services.
Additional information about the HHS Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau is available at www.acf.hhs.gov/cb; for the HHS Office for Civil Rights at www.hhs.gov/ocr/; and for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department at www.justice.gov/crt.