U.S. Department of Justice and HHS Find that DCF Violated ADA and Section 504

In a Letter of Findings made public Monday, the U.S. Dept. of Justice and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights ordered the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families to immediately withdraw a petition to terminate a developmentally delayed mother’s parental rights, and to provide appropriate reunification services accommodating the mother’s disability.  The Letter of Findings can be found at http://www.ada.gov/ma_docf_lof.pdf.   It is a must read for any attorney representing parents with a disability.  

HHS and DOJ found that DCF committed extensive, ongoing violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  DCF discriminated against a developmentally delayed mother by assuming she was unable to learn how to safely parent her daughter because of her disability.  DCF refused to offer the mother appropriate family based services, failed to modify its policies, practices and procedures to accommodate her disability, and changed the goal to adoption based on the mother’s disability.  HHS and DOJ further require DCF pay compensatory damages and develop policies and training to bring DCF into compliance with the ADA.  If DCF fails to voluntarily comply, the letter threatens litigation. 

The letter includes an extensive discussion of DCF’s obligation to provide meaningful visitation, and chides the Department for failing to provide multiple visits a week, given the child’s young age.  Noting that visitation in the mother’s home best suited the mother’s learning style, HHS and DOJ criticize the  Department’s refusal to allow in-home parent child visits, and further criticize DCF’s refusal to allow the maternal grandmother to assist the mother during visits.  When the child cried at visits, DCF’s social worker ended visits early, rather than attempting to console the child and modeling this behavior for the mother.  HHS and DOJ called this an “opportune teaching moment.” 

HHS and DOJ also reject the Department’s decision to reduce visitation after the goal was changed to adoption.  The Department has a “continuing obligation to provide the mother the opportunity to participate in and benefit from its aids, benefits, and services for reunification” until parental rights are terminated. 

The DOJ and HHS investigation is ongoing.  If DCF is failing to reasonably accommodate its services for your disabled client, you may email the DOJ and HHS attorneys at:

Lynch, William (CRT) William.Lynch@usdoj.gov
Fuentes, Christine (CRT) Christine.Fuentes@usdoj.gov

The DOJ has asked that you please forward a copy of your email to ADA.complaint@usdoj.gov if a complaint is submitted to ensure it makes it into the intake system

Image Credit