A Legal and Judicial Guide to Preventing Unnecessary Removal to State Custody Family Preservation in Georgia
Family Preservation in Georgia Financial support from the Georgia Bar Foundation Resources and contributions of the project partners: Barton Child Law & Policy Clinic—Emory University Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation Supreme Court of Georgia’s Committee on Justice for Children
Who Should Read This Guide? New Legal Practitioners Experienced Child Welfare Legal Professionals—Judges and Lawyers DFCS? To obtain copies... The Guide can be downloaded from the Barton Clinic Website: www.Childwelfare.net
Our Approach What is the role of the lawyers and judges when DFCS is the one that makes the decision whether to remove? How do judges decide whether a removal is necessary? How can lawyers best represent clients who face the removal of a child? When is a removal not a removal? The limited scope of this Guide Prevention of abuse and reunification of children with their parents are equally important components of family preservation
The Forces Involved in the Removal Decision Parents and Children’s Rights “The right to the custody and control of one’s child is a fiercely guarded right in our society and in our law. It is a right that should be infringed upon only under the most compelling circumstances.” In re M.S., 178 Ga. App. 380 “All children have the right to a healthy and safe childhood in a nurturing, permanent family, or in the closest substitute to a family setting.” NCJFCJ Key Principles
The Forces Involved in the Removal Decision Child Safety 2007 in Georgia—32,641 substantiated reports of maltreatment 27,728 victims of neglect 3,097 victims of physical abuse 1,201 victims of sexual abuse 615 victims of other abuse The affect of “adverse childhood experiences” on child development
DFCS’ Decision Whether to Remove a Child From the Home Intake Screen out or refer for investigation? DFCS policy calls for erring on the side of caution in accepting case for investigation Response time Diversion
DFCS Investigation of Maltreatment Safety Assessment Immediate danger of physical harm What resources exist that would allow the child to remain safely in the home? What protective interventions are necessary? Risk Assessment Risk of future maltreatment Identify families who may benefit from services How do case managers conduct assessments? The Risk Assessment is attached as Appendix A The Safety Assessment is attached as Appendix B
DFCS Investigation of Maltreatment Supervisory Review Has the case manager accurately assessed child safety and risk factors? Removal should be the last option to maintain the child’s safety
When Does DFCS Make the Decision to Remove? At intake in particularly dangerous cases During investigation based on information that indicates danger During an “on-going” case, after reasonable efforts to address the risk fail Remember, however . . . DFCS cannot remove a child from the home without court authority.
Removing a Child From the Home In your county: Who makes the decision to request the court’s authorization to remove a child to DFCS custody? Does DFCS seek legal advice from the SAAG before requesting court authorization to remove? Does DFCS ask assistance from law enforcement when removing children from the home? How frequently does law enforcement take protective custody of a child?
Reasonable Efforts to Preserve the Family and Prevent Removal? What is reasonable? Is this a legal determination? How can lawyers and judges determine reasonability of social work? Efforts must address the needs of the family No “laundry list” of efforts
DFCS Child & Family Service Plan—the CFSP Georgia’s 2005-2009 CFSP, along with the Annual Progress and Services Reports (APSR), describe the services DFCS provides to protect children and preserve families in Georgia. The federal government monitors Georgia’s compliance with the CFSP through a process known as the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR). Where can I find Georgia’s CFSP, APSR, and CFSR? Georgia’s CFSR/Program Improvement Plan Website—www.gacfsrpip.org
DFCS Child & Family Service Plan—the CFSP In response to CFSR findings that Georgia was not in substantial conformity with its CFSP, Georgia has developed program improvement plans (PIP). Where can I find Georgia’s PIP? Georgia’s CFSR/Program Improvement Plan Website—www.gacfsrpip.org
DFCS Policy The agency’s statement of policy is the first step Is it ever reasonable for DFCS not to follow its own policy? Where can I find DFCS policy? DFCS Policy Manual—http://www.odis.dhr.state.ga.us Barton Clinic index and links to DFCS policy— http://childwelfare.net/DHR/policies/cpindex.html
Understanding “Services” Basic Services: TANF—Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Food Stamps Childcare and Parent Services—CAPS PUP Housing, medical services, treatment services, transportation
Understanding “Services” Family Support Services: Prevention and early intervention services Children 1st Babies Can’t Wait Parent education classes Connecting families to community resources School outreach and life-skills training Treatment and recovery support
Understanding “Services” Family Preservation Services: Intensive services Families in crisis Families at risk for child removal Family based?
Delivery of FPS Ongoing CPS—Family Preservation Case Management Direct services Services from outside providers Good social work judgment Care, logic, common sense, and reasonableness Did DFCS offer and provide the services most likely to remedy a particular family’s needs?
Safety Planning During investigation or ongoing case Identifies each safety concern Outlines steps to ensure safety
The Safety Plan Use of family resources, neighbors or individuals as safety resources Use of community agencies or services as safety resources Having the alleged perpetrator leave the home Having the non-maltreating caregiver move to a safe environment with the child
The “Out of Home” Safety Plan Having the caregiver place the child outside the home—is this a removal? The family’s right to make its own decisions to avoid foster care The family’s decision in the face of DFCS pressure A safety plan using out of home placement should never be a permanent placement or be a substitute for court action
Family Team Meetings FTM as a tool for engaging families in the change process Who comes to the FTM? How frequently is DFCS holding FTMs? The Family Plan
Court Impact How can the Juvenile Court help to prevent unnecessary removal? DFCS cannot remove without court authorization—the judicial branch provides the check on the executive branch How can the Juvenile Court contribute to family preservation?
Court Culture Urgency rather than delay Shared responsibility rather than mistrust and blame Best practices High expectations for preserving safety within the home
Knowledge and Use of Removal Data A court does not make removal decisions to maintain or attain “good numbers” What do the numbers mean to you? To find your numbers... Fostering Court Improvement: http://fosteringcourtimprovement.org
Stakeholder Collaboration Community Resources Training Information Sharing Maximizing Federal Funding Protocols for Reasonable Efforts
Contrary to the Welfare The judge’s decision authorizing removal and continued detention At authorization At 72 hours Can the law standardize the analysis? The law... O.C.G.A. Section 15-11-57 (a)
Juvenile Court Authorization • The judge or an intake officer? • Training of the intake officer • Questions to ask Questions to ask. . . See appendix C
Reasonable Efforts Knowledge of what resources should be available Knowledge of what resources are, in fact, available Making the finding