9, No. 2
Practice with Parents Who Have Cognitive Limitations
Darrin is a father with
cognitive limitations who became involved with the child welfare
system in 1998. Child protective services first paid a visit to
his family after someone expressed concerns about the safety of
Darrins young daughter, Diamond.
When they assessed the
family, social workers identified substance abuse and parenting
issues, areas of concern they felt were complicated by Darrins
intellectual needs. Despite their efforts to support the family,
child welfare workers eventually removed Diamond from the home.
Sadly, many child welfare
stories involving parents who are cognitively limited end here.
The tremendous needs of these parents are partly responsible, but
insufficient training of child welfare workers, a lack of appropriate
services, and outright discrimination can also be to blame.
Whatever the cause,
experts estimate that more than 50% of all parents with cognitive
limitations experience permanent or temporary removal of their children
(Keltner & Tymchuk, 1992).
To child welfare workers
who have been around awhile, this is not news. They know firsthand
the frustration of trying to support these parents, and the disappointing
outcomes that often result. Some cannot recall a single time when
a child was reunified with a cognitively limited parent.
But it does happen.
Darrin was lucky enough to live in an area where specialized services
for parents with developmental disabilities were available. He had
strong support from his family. Most importantly, Darrin and those
around him truly believed he could succeed as a parent. Darrins
telling of his story captures the resilience and the joy in fatherhood
that helped his family succeed.
Tells His Story
It was kind of a shock when the County people stepped
in. I broke down and cried. But my brothers and sister
sat me down and let me know that I was raised from a
good family. Youre the dad, they said,
and you can bring this child home. They
gave me the support and love I needed. . . .
So I went
to the County and said, Hey, Im new to this.
As a dad, what are my rights? And they calmly
sat me down and told me my rights and what I would have
to do to get my child back. They called that the case
plan. I said, Well, what is the case plan?
The case plan, as told to me, was parenting class, urinalysis,
and all that. So I did all that. . . .
went into foster care. It was a hurting feeling to see
her cry. Id leave her in the van that took her
back. The strong person I am, Id say, Its
going to be okay, Diamond. Daddys going to bring
you home. . . . When she came home it was a real
happy feeling. . . . I just want her to know that everything
is going to be okay. And with her progress, its
showing me I can do it, I can be a daddy.
and reprinted with permission from Impact: Feature
Issue on Supporting Parents Who Have Cognitive Limitations,
11(1), Spring 1998, published by the Institute on
Community Integration, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
This issue of Practice
Notes aims to help you achieve similar successes with parents
who have cognitive limitations. To this end, it provides basic information
about people with cognitive limitations, presents a tool for identifying
them, and explores the way cognitive limitations can affect family-centered