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The State of Oregon has taken two children away from their parents because the parents aren’t smart enough to take care of them. I’m not kidding.
While driving in the car, I heard this story on Glenn Beck a few days ago. Beck was going to interview a young woman who had given birth to two children; she had been tested to have an IQ of 72. I expected her to sound like someone who had trouble putting her words together; what I heard was a young, articulate woman who was desperately trying to recover her children. Of course, the story is not quite that simple, so I’ll give you more background.
Amy Fabbrini, 31 years old, gave birth to her child, Christopher, four years ago. The Department of Human Services removed Christopher from his parents’ custody shortly after he was born. Five months ago Ms. Fabbrini had a second child, Hunter, whom the State took directly from the hospital. The parents now live together and have supervised visits with their children. Fabbrini’s partner, Eric Ziegler, tested at a 66 IQ. (Average IQ is between 90 and 110.) They both have high school diplomas.
As Samantha Swindler said in The Oregonian:
No abuse or neglect has been found, but each parent has a degree of limited cognitive abilities. Rather than build a network of support around them, the state child welfare agency has moved to terminate the couple’s parental rights and make the boys available for adoption.
It’s impossible to know the full story when child welfare officials are unable to comment, but the case has left the couple and their advocates heartbroken.
The case lays bare fundamental questions about what makes a good parent and who, ultimately, gets to decide when someone’s not good enough. And it strikes at the heart of the stark choices child welfare workers face daily: should a child be removed or is there some middle ground?
Last year, a volunteer with the State visited the family several times. She is a professional mediator and a board member of Healthy Families of the High Desert, and has credentials for working with children and families. She met with the parents from June through August of last year, and recommended that Christopher be returned to his parents. She was told her services were no longer needed.
Fabbrini has twins from a previous marriage, and shares custody with her ex-husband. Fabbrini’s mother, according to her father, provided most of the parenting for the twins, until his wife died from Alzheimer’s, right before Christopher’s birth; the twins now live with their father.
Fabbrini and Ziegler have taken classes on parenting, first aid, CPR and nutrition from the Women, Infants and Children agency and other organizations.
The State has put both Christopher and Hunter in foster care and want to put them up for adoption. The couple is trying to regain custody of their children. Fabbrini’s aunt, Lenora Tucker, serves as a state-approved chaperone for their visits with Tucker.
In the same article, Susan Yuan, a former associate director of the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion at University of Vermont made this statement:
They (case workers) have very little experience of people with intellectual disabilities, and because all their orientation is for the safety of the child, they err on the side of overprotecting the child without realizing that the parent can do it,” Yuan said. “It’s coming from a good place, but they need more exposure to people with disabilities. She said there are many myths about parents with intellectual disabilities, including the idea that IQ is an important factor in parenting.
Research literature has found that the IQ really doesn’t correlate with parenting until the IQ is below 50. A parent of any IQ, a parent with a 150 IQ, can be a bad parent. … I would say that if the child can be safe and loved in their own family, that this is appropriate parenting and you can put other opportunities in place.
In one sense, the issue is simple: can parents with low IQs parent successfully? But there are other factors involved: both people are unemployed (Fabbrini used to work in a grocery store; Ziegler used to work as a carpet layer, but now collects Social Security for his mental disability). The couple lives in a three-bedroom home owned by Ziegler’s parents. To date, they have lost their efforts to regain custody through the courts.
In September there will be a court case to determine whether they can recover their parental rights.
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