The scariest feeling is having a loved one removed from the home of a parent and placed in the care of the Department of Child Services (DCS). Often times when a child is taken from their parents, relatives find out about it and are not given any information on the child or children because they are not the parents. I, myself, have experienced this gut-wrenching feeling with a relative. You try to find anyone that can help and you feel like your getting no where.
Once you do get ahold of someone, you feel as though they are acting like you are the “bad guy”, instead of working with you to come up with a temporary feasible solution. Even though a child is removed from their parents, the parents still have rights. For example, if there is a history of a parent having mental health issues, that parent can still prevent relatives from caring for the child while the parent does services in order to make the necessary behavior changes to get the child back.
Many times what ends up happening is that when a child is removed from their parents, DCS asks the parents if they have any relatives willing to take the child until the parents are rehabilitated; according to DCS standards. Parents often say “no” because they think they will get their child back faster. This type of thinking is incorrect. In fact, where the child is placed has no bearing on the time the child spends in DCS care. What is unfair is that many parent perpetrators isolate themselves from family members because they are abusing or allowing someone else to abuse their child. Therefore, when it comes to placing children with relatives, DCS should work more closely with the relatives to find out why the parents do not want their children placed with their own relatives instead of discarding the relatives because the parents do not want them included. DCS will say that there is a confidentiality issue that prevents them from giving relatives information about the case. If you are a relative and are experiencing something similar, there are some things that you should do in order to stay known and relevant, just in case the parents are not able to get the child back. The judge could also rule, during the process, for you to be placement for the child.
Here are some things that you should do in order to stay known and relevant:
- Make yourself known to the DCS case manager and the case manager’s supervisor. Many times it is hard to reach a DCS case manager or supervisor by phone because they are so overwhelmed with cases. A great and effective way to communicate is through email. DCS case managers are always on the go, but one thing they take with them is their State phones with email capability. So when A DCS case manager is waiting for their court case to be called, they usually thumb through their emails. Email also leaves a paper trail for proof that you have been trying to work with DCS. If you do not have the case manager or supervisor’s email address, call the main number to the office where the assigned worker is and ask the receptionist at the front desk for the email address. They are usually more than willing to give it to you.
- Show up to every court hearing. Juvenile dependency cases are pretty informal. This is where matters regarding the child’s services and the parents progress are discussed. The good thing about being at these hearings is that the judge always does a roll-call. Often times, this will include unknown visitor’s sitting in the pews. When this happens you may have the opportunity to address the judge and let him know who you are. The judge can order DCS to look into you being possible placement for the child while the parents do their services. If the judge does order DCS to consider you, be prepared for DCS to conduct a background check on you and all household members over the age of 18 years old and a home-study (check your home for safety and interview you and all household members). Also be prepared for DCS to visit the child once a month in your home to ensure that they are remaining safe in your care.
- Request visits with the children through DCS. If DCS is not willing to place the child with you right away, ask the DCS case manager if you can visit with the child, whether its a supervised visit or not. This at least lets the child know that you are there and that you are in their corner. Also, the child is appointed a lawyer and if the child is old enough to say who they want to live with, the child’s attorney will let it be known in court who the child would like to reside with while the child’s parents are going through services.
- Collect contact information and keep notes of everything. When coming across different key players in the child’s dependency case, always get their contact information. There may be times when contacting them is needed. For example, there is always a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) assigned to a dependency case. The GAL is a person appointed by the Court to represent the best interest of the child throughout the dependency process. If the judge wants DCS to file a motion to place the child in your care and it has not been done timely, the GAL is a good person for you to contact so that they can follow-up with DCS and the Assistant Attorney General (AAG), who is the attorney for DCS. The child may also have a separate attorney from the GAL, so you may want their contact info too. However, the child’s attorney may not be very helpful to you and may tell you that they are only there to represent what the child wants, even though the child may want to be placed with you. Therefore, it is up to the child to advise their attorney that they want to live with you, if the child is old enough to think and speak for themselves. I can not reiterate enough how important it is to keep track of everything that’s said to you and that happens. Because of the high turnover with DCS case manager’s, often the ball gets dropped on important information. Therefore, if you keep great notes, you can update the new case manager on important things for the child.
Hopefully, this information gives you a better understanding of what you can do as a relative of a child in DCS care. I know that it will feel like you keep getting doors slammed in your face, but know that persistence is key to getting anywhere in the dependency process. Also, keep in mind that it is what’s best for the child and that the child needs to be supported at all times. If none of this coincides with your situation, please also check out the resource page for other contacts that may be of use to you.