"They're saying that this foster care provider is better for the child because she can provide more financially, provide better education, things like that," an advocate for the couple said. "If we're going on that train, Bill Gates should take my children."
At what point does the government get to determine who makes a sufficient parent?
That’s the question brought to the table in an unusual Oregon custody case.
Parents Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler have been fighting for almost four years to prove to the state that they’re capable of raising their two young boys, despite having below average IQ’s.
Fabbrini, age 31, has an IQ of about 72, which places her in the “extremely low borderline range of intelligence.” Ziegler, 38, has an IQ of 66, meaning he is in the “mild range of intellectual disability.”
The average person’s IQ falls between 90 and 110.
The couple’s first son, Christopher, came as a total surprise about four years ago. Like, really a surprise. Fabbrini hadn’t known she was pregnant until she gave birth to him in Ziegler’s home.
“Here and there I have kidney issues, so I just thought I was having kidney issues, that’s what I associated the pain with,” she told The Oregonian. “I was trying to go to sleep and trying to get comfortable… and I felt this weird pain down there.”
Fabbrini’s father, who she lived with at the time, alerted authorities and Christopher was taken from his mom shortly after his birth.
“She doesn’t have the instincts to be a mother,” Raymond Fabbrini, 74, said of his daughter.
The couple’s second son, Hunter, was born this February and taken away before they even brought him home from the hospital.
Both of the boys are now in foster care.
“They’re saying that this foster care provider is better for the child because she can provide more financially, provide better education, things like that,” Sherrene Hagenbach, who’s been advocating for the couple since she oversaw visits between them and Christopher.
“If we’re going on that train, Bill Gates should take my children. There’s always somebody better than us, so it’s a very dangerous position to be in.”
“It feels like we have to go through so many loops to prove to them that we’re capable of taking care of our kids and there’s still always one more thing,” Fabbrini said.
Since Christopher losing custody of Christopher, the couple has taken two parenting classes, a nutrition class, a CPR class, a first aid class and psychological evaluations.
They now live together in a three-bedroom home owned by Ziegler’s parents and Ziegler has a driver’s license.
Neither parent currently works, but both have high school diplomas.
Despite never having lived with their sons, they’ve decorated a nursery in their home and filled it with unread baby books and unworn baby clothes.
“I honestly don’t understand why they can’t have their children,” Lenora Turner, Fabbrini’s aunt who serves as a state-approved chaperone for the parents’ visits with Hunter, said. “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?”
Though the state did not comment on the case due to confidentiality concerns, officials referred reporters to the court documents. There, child welfare records state that Ziegler had been sleeping with the baby on the floor and that people who know him said he’s easily frustrated and “often forgets to feed his dog.”
Ziegler denies the accusation that he almost rolled over his son and points to his chubby dog as proof of his feeding capabilities.
There are about 4.1 million parents with disabilities in the United States, according to a national report. 2.3% of those parents (about 94,300) are estimated to have cognitive disabilities.
Anywhere from 40% to 80% of those intellectually disabled parents lose their parental rights — despite the fact that research suggests IQ doesn’t correlate with good (or bad) parenting capabilities unless the IQ is below 50.
“A cognitively impaired parent can still parent,” the couple’s attorney, Aron Perez-Selsky, said in court. “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.”
Fabbrini and Ziegler’s story has caught the attention of at least one Oregon legislator, Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend), who said he would support a bill to ensure that the government can’t take away custody solely because of a parent’s disability.
“My impression of them is that they were just like any other couple, and they were trying to be successful in life, just like anyone else would be, and they wanted to be together as a family,” Knopp said of Christopher and Hunter’s parents. “I didn’t see any issues when I met with them that would automatically disqualify them from being good parents.”
Next, read about a transgender man who just gave birth to a baby boy. Then, learn how indigenous advocates are working to make cultural appropriation illegal.