When does the government's attempts to protect kids go too far? That's the question recently raised in Oregon when, despite no reports of abuse or neglect, the state of Oregon removed two children from their parents' custody. According to a report from the Oregonian, the state has cited the couple's limited cognitive abilities as evidence they were incapable of caring for the children themselves.
Oregon's Department of Human Services took Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler's first child, Christopher, away from the couple shortly after he was born roughly four years ago. When Fabbrini gave birth to Hunter, the couple's second son, in Febuary, the state removed the baby from their custody before they had even had the chance to take him home from the hospital. In fighting to regain custody of their children, both of whom are in foster care, the couple has found stable housing together and attended parenting, first aid, CPR, and nutrition classes.
"We've just done everything and more than what they've asked us to," Fabbrini told the Oregonian.
"It doesn't seem like it's good enough for them," the paper reported Ziegler added. "They're saying, 'Who would parent Christopher better, the foster parents or the parents?' is basically what they're going on."
Court documents Fabbrini and Ziegler provided to the Oregonian reportedly showed the state had sought to remove Christopher from their care because the parents had shown "limited cognitive abilities that interfere with (their) ability to safely parent the child." The couple also provided psychological evaluations, which placed Fabbrini's IQ at around 72 and Ziegler's around 66. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' breakdown of the severity of cognitive impairment as defined by IQ ranges, Fabbrini's score of 72 reportedly places her as "borderline intellectual functioning." Ziegler's IQ of 66 places him with "mild cognitive impairment."
"A cognitively impaired parent can still parent," Ziegler's attorney Aron Perez-Selsky told the Oregonian. "Their rights cannot be terminated simply because they suffer from cognitive impairment, so long as they are able to put together a plan for how they're going to safely care for their kids with the support of people in the community."
Fabbrini and Ziegler are likely not the first, nor the last, parents to have their children taken from them due to concerns over their cognitive abilities. According to a 2012 report from the National Council on Disability, the removal rates of children born to parents found to have an intellectual disability fall between 40 to 80 percent. Indeed, the idea that intellectual disabilities can be linked to an increased threat of parental risks is a controversial one, given the history of involuntary sterilization of individuals deemed "intellectually disabled."
It remains unclear if Fabbrini and Ziegler will ever regain custody of their two boys as most of their efforts have, up till now, appeared largely fruitless. Moreover, legislation aimed at prohibiting Oregon from using a parent's disability as the sole grounds for removing a child — a bill that would have significantly helped the couple's case — failed to pass out of committee in 2013.