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Minnesota court: Mental impairment doesn't negate parental rights

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The Minnesota Court of Appeals says a mental impairment is not sufficient grounds to terminate a parent's rights.

The court Monday restored a Detroit Lakes man's access to his 2-year-old daughter, the Star Tribune reports. The three-judge panel overturned a lower court ruling, saying there was no evidence the man's intellectual impairment interfered with his ability to be in a parent/child relationship.

The opinion released Monday also found the lower court should have required Becker County to do more to reunite parent and child.

His lawyer tells the Star Tribune the man who regained his parental rights is overjoyed by the ruling. Tim Dodd tells the newspaper “The case stands for the proposition that a parent ought to have a chance. It’s all he ever wanted.”

An assistant county attorney says there's still an open child-protection case that involves the father and there's been no decision yet on whether to appeal the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the Star Tribune says.

The appeals court ruling explains that the daughter of the Detroit Lakes man who filed the case is now in foster care along with two half-siblings after the county determined they were being neglected by their mother. The ruling does not give the father custody. It does allow him to visit his daughter and returns the case to the lower court to work out specifics.

In 2006 the University of Minnesota's Institute on Community Integration published a paper looking at state policies on the termination of parental rights because of disability. The institute says the number of American families headed by a parent with an intellectual disability has grown over the years. The researchers found the child welfare system is often not well equipped to provide services to parents with disabilities.

The Arc, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, says the actual abilities of an intellectually disabled parent are often not assessed before rights are terminated.

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