In October 2016 we joined the National Disability Rights Network, the Arc Michigan and the Arc of the United States in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the Michigan Supreme Court in a case the involves the termination of parental rights where the parent is known to have a cognitive or developmental disability. 

When the state takes custody of a child, it cannot permanently terminate a parent’s legal rights without first making reasonable efforts to safely reunify the family by developing a case “service plan” for the parent to follow. In this case, a mother made the painful decision to relinquish her children into foster care after her family support system fell apart, leaving her homeless and overwhelmed. The mother was also cognitively impaired, and she received a full diagnosis along with recommendations for specialized services with an organization that help parents with such disabilities. 

However, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) refused to follow these recommendations and demanded that the mother follow a standard service plan that failed to take into consideration her disability. When the mother failed to show improvement in the standard service plan, the trial court terminated her parental rights. On appeal, we argued that DHHS violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to make any effort to accommodate the mother through a service plan that would have provided her with the specialized services tailored to her disability. 

In May 2017, the Michigan Supreme Court issued a decision agreeing with our position, ruling that the state, in attempting to reunify the family, was obligated to modify its standard procedures in ways that are reasonable necessary to accommodate the mother’s disability under the ADA. 

(In re Hicks; ACLU Attorneys Michael J. Steinberg and Dan Korobkin; Jill Wheaton and Courtney Kissell of Dykema.)