When parents have intellectual or cognitive delays and mental health problems, parenting can be even more challenging than it generally is. It is not unusual for agency involvement and for the children to be removed. However, the goal is still for biological parents to have a role in the lives of their children as long as it is in the best interests of the children. Specific accommodations must be made in order to give the biological parents the opportunity to successfully parent their children. In the case of In re Jose F., the Family Court, Kings County was asked to decide on a permanency plan for two children whose parents had cognitive deficiencies.
Jose, who was 6 weeks, was brought to the hospital. He was significantly underweight and malnourished. Because of the condition of the child and the parents were both mentally delayed the hospital was concerned for the well-being of the child. In fact, they were concerned that the child would die if his parents continued to care for him as they were not aware as to how to care for a child. In addition, the mother was alleged to have bipolar disorder and was not taking her medication. Jose was removed from their care. A second child was born a year later. By that time the parents had made sufficient progress that such that they were permitted to have limited unsupervised time during their agency visits with Jose. Still, a new petition for neglect was filed. Both children were remanded to ACS and both remain in foster care. A permanency hearing was scheduled pursuant to article 10-A of the Family Court Act.
Given that the New York legislature has found that it is generally in the best interests of the child for the child to be raised by their biological parents, the Administration Children’s Services (ACS) is required to undertake reasonable efforts toward family reunification. Of course, in reviewing evidence presented at a permanency hearing, the Family Court will make a decision that is in the best interests of the child. The court’s goal is for the child to be placed in a safe, loving environment where the child can thrive.
Here, the ACS argued that it made reasonable efforts toward the goal of reunification of the child with his parents. The parents disagreed. They alleged that
- ACS did not help them apply for services from the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)
- ACS did not help the mother apply for SSI despite the need for her to maintain a stable source of income
- ACS did not adequately help with transferring the father’s mental health services when he moved to Staten Island to Brooklyn
- ACS failed to explore the parents’ eligibility for supportive housing
- ACS failed to make sufficient efforts to assist the parents with the logistics of their transportation.
The court agreed with the parents, noting in particularly the failure of the ACS to help the parents in any meaningful way to manage their monthly income in a way that ensured they had a sufficient supply of food until their next public assistance check. The ACS also did not help them find additional sources of income.
Ultimately the court determined that although the ACS made some efforts toward reunification, their efforts were minimal and were not reasonable as required by New York law. The court ordered that the ACS make specific efforts to support the parents, including following up on and encouraging the parents’ engagement in mental health services and to find them locate a parent coach or a parenting program with experience working with parents with cognitive impairments. The children remained in the care of the ACS with the parents having supervised visitation. The goal permanency goal was with the parents, but adoption of the older child remained an option.