People in Interest of S.K., 2019 COA 36

In this appeal of a termination order, the Court of Appeals considers how the American with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) reasonable accommodations requirement relates to the termination criteria of lack of success with a treatment plan, unfitness, and unlikelihood of change.
The Court of Appeals holds that, for parents with qualified disabilities under the ADA, a juvenile court must consider reasonable accommodations in deciding the appropriateness of a treatment plan and whether reasonable efforts were made to rehabilitate the parent.

While the Department must provide appropriate screenings and assessments, the parent has a responsibility to disclose information about his or her mental impairment or other disability and should also identify any modifications believed to be necessary to accommodate the disability. A department is responsible for accommodating only disabilities that are known, either because of the obviousness of the disability or because someone has informed the department of the disability.

The Court considers other states’ decisions, guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and provisions of the Children’s Code. Based on this guidance, the Court concludes that to comply with federal reasonable accommodations and reasonable efforts requirements, a department must make reasonable modifications to the treatment plan and rehabilitative services offered. In terminating a disabled parent’s rights, a court’s determination of the appropriateness of the treatment plan and whether reasonable efforts were provided must include consideration of whether reasonable accommodations were made for the parent’s disability. The determination of reasonable accommodations is based on an individualized assessment, and in considering whether reasonable accommodations were made, the juvenile court must consider the child’s best interests and need for permanency and keep as its paramount concern the child’s health and safety. The reasonable accommodations requirement does not lower the standard for parents with disabilities and requires only accommodations that are reasonable. Ultimately, the reasonable accommodations is a case-specific determination “based on the child’s health and safety needs, the nature of the parent’s disability, and the available resources.”

Applying these principles to the case before it, the Court notes that the parents’ disabilities were known and qualified as disabilities under the ADA. The Court upholds the trial court’s determination that the treatment plans were appropriate, highlighting the services provided to the parents and the parents’ failure to specifically identify additional accommodations or treatment that the plan should have included. Similarly, the Court affirms the trial court’s determination that the Department did make reasonable efforts to implement the recommendations that came from the capacity to parent and neuropsychological evaluations. Finally, the Court rejects father’s less drastic alternative claim.

March 7, 2019

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