Tara Morrison


When the state removes a child from the custody of his or her parents, the delicate balance between parents’ rights and the state’s obligation to protect the child comes into play. Because termination of parental rights is irrevocable, it is often referred to as the “death penalty” of family law. Historically, parents with intellectual disabilities have been denied the opportunity to parent through eugenics and sterilization, a horrific history that finds modern articulation through the removal of children from parents based on presumptions of neglect.1 When a child protection agency removes a child from parental care, without providing the support services to remedy the stated reason for removal, the parents are denied an adequate opportunity to parent their own children and the family suffers. In 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided Care and Protection of Walt, which held that if the Department of Children and Families (DCF) breaches its statutory duty to provide support services prior to removing a child, then the juvenile judge has the equitable authority to order remedial action. This Note discusses what Walt tells us about how and when judicial authority may be exercised in care and protection cases in Massachusetts, and what impact this may have on parental rights, specifically the rights of parents with intellectual disabilities.