An Oregon couple was forced to relinquish their children to the state's Department of Human Services after the parents were deemed not intelligent enough to raise children.
In 2013, Amy Fabbrini, 31, unexpectedly gave birth to her now-oldest son Christopher, according to the Daily Mail. She was unaware that she was pregnant and never received formal examination or guidance.
A concerned relative expressed concern to authorities, saying that neither Fabbrini nor her partner Eric Ziegler, 38, were mentally fit enough to be parents. Ziegler received financial compensation via Social Security for a diagnosed mental disability. Fabbrini's father was acting as the primary caregiver for the child, as he believed his daughter did not have the "instincts to be a mother."
After the relative's request, both Fabbrini and Ziegler completed a IQ test and received low scores. The average person ranges anywhere from 90 from 110. Ziegler scored 66, putting him in the mild "intellectual disability" range. Fabbrini received a 72, placing her in the "extremely low to borderline range of intelligence."
Based on those results, they were deemed unfit to have custody of children. Christopher was placed into the foster system; when Fabbrini had her second child Hunter earlier this year, he was taken directly from the hospital.
Fabbrini and Ziegler remain able to visit both their children in foster care under the supervision of Fabbrini's aunt Lenora Turner, who serves as their state-approved chaperone.
"I honestly don't understand why they can't have their children," Turner told The Oregonian. "I go to the grocery store and I see other people with their children and they're standing up in the grocery cart ... and I think, how come they get to keep their children? How do they decide whose child they're going to take and whose child can stay?"
The couple has spent years unsuccessfully trying to regain custody of their children. Neither Fabbrini nor Ziegler have any history of abuse nor neglect.
"A cognitively impaired parent can still parent," said Ziegler's attorney Aron Perez-Selsky. "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."
A national study suggests that 40 to 80 percent of parents with disabilities lose custody rights of their children.
"[Case workers] have very little experience of people with intellectual disabilities, and because all their orientation is for the safety of the child, they err on the side of overprotecting the child without realizing that the parent can do it," said Susan Yuan, president of The Association for Successful Parenting, which works with parents with disabilities. "It's coming from a good place, but they need more exposure to people with disabilities."
"A parent of any IQ, a parent with a 150 IQ, can be a bad parent ... I would say that if the child can be safe and loved in their own family, that this is appropriate parenting and you can put other opportunities in place."
Under Oregon law, the state can deem a parent to be unfit solely based on a parent's illness or disability. Despite pressure from disability advocacy groups throughout the years, the law has remained unchanged.
Despite attending classes on parenting, first aid, CPR and nutrition at the direction of child welfare workers, Fabbrini and Ziegler still have been unable to regain custody of their children.
"We've just done everything and more than what they've asked us to," said Fabbrini.
"It doesn't seem like it's good enough for them," added Ziegler. "They're saying: 'Who would parent Christopher better, the foster parents or the parents?' is basically what they're going on."