For almost four years Oregon couple Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler have been desperately trying to prove that they are able to raise their biological children, children that have been removed from their custody by the Oregon Department of Human Services. To some, the reason that the couple’s children have been taken away is shocking – according to the State of Oregon, 31-year-old Amy and 38-year-old Eric are simply not intelligent enough to be good parents.
No evidence of abuse or neglect has ever been documented, reports The Oregonian, however, the state has determined that the Oregon parents are too mentally limited to be good parents.
The couple’s nightmare began nearly four years ago, not long after their older son Christopher was born on September 9 2013. Neither of the Oregon parents were aware that Amy Fabbrini was pregnant, and Christopher’s surprise birth took place at Ziegler’s home. Amy said that she simply thought her labor pains were a symptom of ongoing kidney issues. Fortunately, little Christopher and his mom made it through his lack of prenatal care and surprise birth unscathed.
“Here and there I have kidney issues so I just thought I was having kidney issues, that’s what I associated the pain with. I was trying to go to sleep and trying to get comfortable… and I felt this weird pain down there.”
After giving birth, Amy brought Christopher home to her father’s place to live with her and her 6-year-old twins (from a previous relationship and of whom she had shared custody at the time of Christopher’s birth). She and Eric weren’t yet living together. Unfortunately, her new mommy happiness didn’t last long as her father began to urge her to give Christopher up for adoption.
“She doesn’t have the instincts to be a mother.”
According to 74-year-old Raymond Fabbrini, Amy hadn’t done much parenting of her older twins. He claimed that he and his wife, who passed away a week before Christopher was unexpectedly born, had done most of the raising. According to Raymond, his daughter is “a lazy child.”
“Me and Amy were never close. She got me mad so many times. She wouldn’t do nothing.”
Ultimately, little Christopher ended up going to live with his father. That living arrangement didn’t last long, however, with his own family members contacting the Oregon Department of Human Services and expressing concerns over the baby’s well-being. Among the complaints to the state, per child welfare records, is that Eric Ziegler nearly rolled over onto the baby while sleeping with him on the floor, that Eric is “easily frustrated,” and even that he had a history of forgetting to feed his dog.
Oregon officials have remained mum on the case, citing privacy concerns and an inability to legally comment. However, the heartbroken parents and their advocates have not. As a result of the state’s investigation, Christopher was placed into the foster care system due to both parents having “limited cognitive abilities that interfere with (their) ability to safely parent the child.”
After losing custody of Christopher, Oregon parents Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler have reportedly taken parenting classes, been instructed in CPR, first aid and nutrition, and followed other training guidelines set forth by Oregon child welfare workers. Even so, Christopher is still in foster care and the Oregon parents have only been granted supervised visitation.
“We’ve just done everything and more than what they’ve asked us to. It doesn’t seem like it’s good enough for them. They’re saying, ‘Who would parent Christopher better, the foster parents or the parents?’ is basically what they’re going on.”
The Oregon parents’ story took another devastating turn five months ago, with the birth of their planned for second child, Hunter. The couple, who are now living in a three-bedroom home owned by Eric Ziegler’s out-of-state parents, had decorated a nursery and were prepared to bring their new son home after his birth. Instead, little hunter was taken by Oregon State authorities directly from the hospital, and is now in foster care as well. Over the course of her nearly four year ordeal, Amy Fabbrini has also lost her shared custody of her twins, who now reside full-time with her ex-husband.
Over the course of their ordeal, the Oregon parents underwent IQ and psychological testing. According to the documentation they received and provided to the media, Fabbrini’s IQ was determined to be roughly 72, or in the “extremely low to borderline range of intelligence.” Ziegler tested a bit lower, at about 66, or the “mild range of intellectual disability.”
Average IQ is considered to be anything between 90 and 110.
Despite their admittedly low IQ scores, the Oregon parents graduated high school with standard diplomas. Ziegler also reportedly has a driver’s license. Both parents have had jobs in the past, with Amy working at a grocery store and Eric laying carpet – he is now receiving Social Security benefits due to his mental disability
While Amy Fabbrini’s father is decidedly against the couple regaining custody of their children, a state lawmaker is working on their behalf. The Oregon parents are also getting help from Sherrene Hagenbach, a volunteer who once oversaw the couple’s visitation with their older son. According to Sherrene, she felt the Oregon parents were fully capable of raising their child. Afterward, she was dismissed from that post.
“They are saying they are intellectually incapable without any guidelines to go by.”
Hagenbach has been advocating for the Oregon parents for the last year, but to no avail.
An attorney for Fabbrini argued in a recent court hearing that there is no evidence of abuse in his client’s case, and asked the court a poignant question about basic human rights.
“This is a case that just simply presents this question to the court, and that is: What level of disability denies human beings the right to raise a child. There’s no smoking gun evidence of abuse.”
Attorney Aron Perez-Selsky pleaded with an Oregon court in 2015 to return Christopher to his distraught parents, also without success.
“A cognitively impaired parent can still parent. 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.”
While the current plight of Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler is distressing, it is certainly not unique among American parents with intellectual disabilities. One study determined that anywhere between 40 and 80 percent are ultimately stripped of their parental rights based solely on their IQ and other intellectual impairments.
In 2013, Disability Rights Oregon introduced a new law that would have prevented the state from stripping away a person’s parental rights simply based on “parent’s illness or disability, including intellectual disability.”
The legislation didn’t make it past a House committee.
At this point, and despite the fact that no abuse or neglect has ever been found in the case of Oregon parents Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler, the state is moving to terminate the couple’s parental rights and make their children available for adoption.
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