SW AcademyLegal Day The Life of a Dependency
Before you file Legal authority – federal Legal authority - state Child abuse/neglect defined Confidentiality Collaboration Reasonable efforts
Legal authority – Federal • Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) Requires states to implement procedures for reporting suspected abuse and neglect, investigating such reports and taking steps to protect children found to be at risk of harm. • Title IV of Social Security Act • Federal law that provides funding for family preservation, foster care and adoption support. • Requires states receiving funding to provide “reasonable efforts” to keep families together and to reunite them when children are placed out of the home. • Requires that a child’s safety be the paramount consideration in child welfare cases. • Requires states file a termination petition when a child has been in out-of-home care for 15 of the most recent 22 months, unless compelling reason otherwise. • Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) • Recognizes the heightened importance of maintaining an Indian child’s connection with his or her Indian tribe. And “Indian child” is one who is a member of a federally recognized tribe or is eligible for membership and is the biological child of a tribal member. • Sets standards for the removal of Indian children, priorities for placement of Indian children, and requires notice of dependency and termination proceedings to the tribe of an Indian child.
Legal authority – State • DSHS is the agency required to provide child welfare services, and shall: • investigate complaints of ca/n • offer child welfare services regarding ca/n to families or bring the problem to the attention of the courts • have authority to accept custody of children from parents and juvenile court • monitor out-of-home placements
Legal authority – State (cont.) • RCW 13.34.020 • The family unit should remain intact unless a child's right to conditions of basic nurture, health, or safety is jeopardized. Basic nurture includes the right to a safe, stable, and permanent home and a speedy resolution of dependency and termination proceedings. • When the child’s rights of basic nurture, physical and mental health are in conflict with the legal rights of the parents, the rights and safety of the child should prevail. • Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act (ch. 13.38 RCW) • Defines “active efforts” and “best interests of the child” • Requires a good faith effort to determine whether a child is an Indian child
Child abuse/neglect defined • "Abuse or neglect" means sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or injury of a child by any person under circumstances which cause harm to the child's health, welfare, or safety, excluding lawful physical discipline; or the negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child by a person responsible for or providing care to the child. • "Negligent treatment or maltreatment" means an act or a failure to act, or the cumulative effects of a pattern of conduct, behavior, or inaction, that evidences a serious disregard of consequences of such magnitude as to constitute a clear and present danger to a child's health, welfare, or safety.
Confidentiality • Information about the child that is collected or retained by the Department is confidential. It may only be released to individuals or entities specified in the statute, such as parents or “juvenile justice or care agencies” (e.g., police, court, prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, attorney general, any public or private agency with custody of the child). • Upon request, the Department is required to provide all records and information collected or retained by it that pertains to the child to the child, the child’s parents, or the child’s or parents’ attorneys, except: • when the release of the information would likely cause severe psychological or physical harm to the child or his or her parents, or • if the records relate to voluntary services that the child was legally entitled to obtain without parental consent.
Collaboration You may conduct ongoing case planning and consultation with mandatory reporters, and with designated representatives of Washington Indian tribes, if the client information exchanged is pertinent to cases currently receiving child protective services
Reasonable efforts Reasonable efforts to prevent removal means offering services to prevent or eliminate the need for the removal of the child from the home. These include: • Reasonably available preservation services, including housing services, capable of preventing or eliminating the need for out-of-home placement.
Activity Small Group Discussion (5 mins.): • At the time of the filing of the dependency petition, what reasonable efforts to prevent removal had been made in this case? • In your opinion, was this enough? Why/why not? • What might you have done differently? Report back to large group
When you file Court structure Dependency petition Dependency defined “Indian child” defined Service of the petition Removal Requirements for pick-up order Requirements for protective custody AAG consult
Court structure STATE SUPREME COURT COURT OF APPEALS SUPERIOR COURT Juvenile Court is a division of Superior Court
Dependency petition • Initiates court involvement • Anyone may file • Must address each parent, guardian, or custodian • Must address the child’s Indian status • Must allege that a child meets the legal definition of “dependent child”
Dependency defined A dependent child is one who: • (a) Has been abandoned, or • (b) has been abused or neglected, or • (c) has no capable parent or guardian, such that the child is in circumstances which constitute a danger of substantial damage to the child's psychological or physical development
“Indian child” defined • Under ICWA, an “Indian child” is someone under 18 years of age who: • Is a member of a federally recognized tribe OR • Is eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe and whose parents are tribal members • Department policy is to apply a broader definition of “Indian child” that includes children with Indian heritage, even if they don’t meet the definition above. The Department applies its ICW policies to these children for case-planning purposes, but this is not a legal or court requirement.
Service of the petition • Personal service • 15 court days prior to fact-finding • only exception – out-of-state parent • Via certified mail • received 15 days prior to fact-finding • Publication • following due diligence • 1st date of publication must be 25 days prior to fact-finding
Removal Children may be taken into custody by: • court order (pick-up order) • law enforcement protective custody (PC) • Agreement of the parent (VPA) • Hospital administrator or physician (hospital hold)
Requirements for pick-up order • A dependency petition and sworn statement supporting the pick-up order have been filed • There are reasonable grounds to believe the child’s health, safety, or welfare will be seriously endangered if not taken into custody • There are reasonable grounds to believe the child is dependent
Requirements for protective custody There is probable cause to believe that the child is abused or neglected AND • The child would be injured OR • The child could not be taken into custody if it were necessary to first obtain a court order
AAG Consult • You can consult with your AAG to discuss whether your case is legally sufficient, and whether you have sufficient facts to support removal of the child. • When you do so, please keep in mind the following: • The AGO is an independent state agency. • The AGO does not represent individual social workers, but instead represents DSHS and the people of the State of Washington. • Your AAG can advise you regarding legal sufficiency, but cannot make policy decisions for you. • Your communications with your AAG are protected by attorney-client privilege, but you can waive this by telling people outside your agency about our privileged conversations. • If you are considering a settlement of your case, you need to discuss this with your AAG before you agree.
Activity AAG Consult Demonstration (10 mins.) • What are each parent’s parental deficiencies? • Were reasonable efforts made to prevent removal, and if so how as to each parent? • Would you request removal of each child, and if so how would you support that decision? • What is the current status of custody as to each child, and how does this affect the risk of harm posed by each of the parents?
Shelter care Legal standard Timing SW obligations before hearing In the courtroom Discovery Court’s considerations
Legal standard Court may order out-of-home placement if it finds reasonable cause to believe that: • Services were offered to prevent or eliminate need for removal, AND • No parent or guardian is available to care for the child OR • Release of the child to the parent presents a serious threat of substantial harm to the child
Timing Initial shelter care hearing must occur within 72 hours of placement, excluding Saturdays, Sunday and holidays
SW obligations before hearing • Make reasonable efforts to provide notice to parents of shelter care hearing • Notify tribe, if Indian child under ICWA • Prepare discovery • Perform due diligence to locate a relative placement • Attempt to facilitate visitation
In the courtroom • Key players: • Judge/Commissioner • Court Reporter • Judicial Assistant/Bailiff • Social Worker • AAG • Parent • Parent Attorney • CASA/GAL • Other interested people: • Tribal representative • Child • Child attorney • Foster parents • Relatives • Friends and family • Service providers
Discovery • The Department must provide the parent or parent’s attorney with a redacted copy of records pertaining to the child that are retained by the Department at a reasonable time before the shelter care hearing. • Provide an unredacted copy to your AAG, as well.
Court’s considerations • Court will appoint attorneys to indigent parents • Court will appoint GAL / CASA • Court may set case conference • Reasonable efforts to prevent the need for removal • Placement, including: • Appropriate relatives? • Suitable person? • Can child safely remain in the home if non-offending parent obtains a protective order? • Visitation – parent and sibling • For children in grades 6 through 12, the Department will identify an Educational Liaison.
Activity Small group discussion (10 mins.) • How would you explain imminent risk of harm to Serena if she were released to either parent’s care at shelter care? • How would you explain imminent risk of harm to Zoe if she were released to either parent’s care at shelter care? • How can you put your best foot forward in court so that you are more credible? Report back to large group
Dependency fact-finding and dispositional hearing Legal standard “Indian” child Timing Evidence rules Settlement Working with your AAG Testifying Dispositional hearing Placement Visitation Services
Legal standard • Whether the child meets the definition of a “dependent child” by a preponderance of the evidence. • Remember, a dependent child is one who: • (a) Has been abandoned, or • (b) has been abused or neglected, or • (c) has no capable parent or guardian, such that the child is in circumstances which constitute a danger of substantial damage to the child's psychological or physical development.
If “Indian” Child • The Department is required to notify the child’s tribe or tribes of the dependency action by certified mail, return receipt requested and by use of a mandatory Indian child welfare act notice. • In involuntary foster care and termination of parental rights proceedings involving an Indian child the following are required – • Proof that active efforts have been made to provide remedial services and rehabilitative programs designed to prevent the breakup of the Indian family and that these efforts have proved unsuccessful. • A determination, supported by testimony of qualified expert witnesses, that the continued custody of the child by the parent is likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child. • These 2 elements need to be proved by clear, cogent and convincing evidence.
Timing • Hearing must be held within 75 days of petition being filed unless exceptional circumstances exist. • Courts interpret “exceptional circumstances” differently.
Evidence rules • Evidence rules apply in the dependency fact-finding hearing. • Hearsay is not admissible. • Impact on your case: • Witnesses who heard parents make admissions may have to testify. • Witnesses who experienced or observed abuse or neglect firsthand may have to testify, unless exception applies. • May need to call providers, neighbors, family members, child.
Settlement • Where an agreement can be obtained that protects the safety of the child and is legally sufficient based on the evidence, it will be pursued. • An agreed order is a settlement. Agreed dependency orders are subject to the approval of the court, and the court must find that the parent knowingly and voluntarily entered into the agreement and understands its consequences. • (b) versus (c) considerations
Working with your AAG When preparing for a dependency fact-finding trial, you may want to: • Create a timeline of the case and send a copy to your AAG (1-2 pgs.). • Request the AAG send you a list of questions you will be expected to answer. • Send the AAG a proposed witness list identifying the name, address, phone number, role in the case, and summary of the expected testimony.
Testifying Do: • Dress appropriately • Be truthful…even if it hurts • Be prepared to testify as the expert • Take your time • Keep in mind your audience • Speak in plain language • Answer the question asked • Stick to your guns! Don’t: • Argue • Get mad • Assume anything • Answer a question with a question • Equivocate • Give vague answers • Speculate • Agree to inaccurate language
Dispositional hearing • May be delayed up to 14 days after fact-finding for good cause • Court will enter orders regarding: • Placement • Visits (with parents and siblings) • Services • Evidence rules need not apply at dispositional hearing
Placement To order out-of-home placement, the court must find that reasonable efforts have been made to prevent removal from the home, AND • There is no parent willing or available to care for the child OR • clear, cogent, and convincing evidence supports a finding that a manifest danger exists that the child will suffer serious abuse or neglect if not removed
Placement (cont.) A child placed out of a parent’s home must be placed: • with a relative willing and able to care for the child, with whom the child has a relationship and is comfortable • with a suitable person with a significant relationship with the child • in a licensed foster home
Visitation • Visitation with parents and siblings is a right. • It is presumed that visitation is in the child’s best interest. • Visits may not be conditioned on compliance with services or cooperation with DSHS.
Services • Order must set out clear requirements for compliance and progress, and timeline for completion. • If the parent is unable to pay, DSHS is required to provide funds for remedial services to the extent funding is available to it for such specific services. • Remedial services are time-limited family reunification services, including: • individual, group, and family counseling; • substance abuse treatment services; • mental health services; • assistance to address domestic violence; • services designed to provide temporary child care and therapeutic services for families; • and transportation to or from any of the above services and activities. • If court-ordered remedial services are unavailable for any reason, including lack of funding, lack of services, or language barriers, DSHS is required to promptly notify the court that the parent is unable to engage in the treatment due to the inability to access these services.
Activity Review Social Worker testimony: pgs. 519-21 pg. 533 lines 7-19 pgs. 534-38 pg. 548 line 12-24 pg. 552 line 15 – pg. 553 line 11 pg. 555 pg. 559 line 20 – pg. 560 line 2 pg. 563 pg. 564 – pg. 565 line 1 pg. 574
Activity (cont.) Review Detective Testimony: pgs. 24-28 pg. 29 pg 33 line 25 – pg. 34 line 21 pg. 37 – pg. 40 line 14 pg. 49 line 16 – pg. 50 line 15 pgs. 60-66 pg. 83 line 16 – pg. 85 line 15
Activity (cont.) Large group discussion: • What hurt the credibility of the witnesses? • What helped it? • Whose testimony was more effective, and why?
Review and permanency planning hearings Timing Issues before the court Visitation Permanent plans Return home Adoption Dependency guardianship Permanent legal custody
Timing • 1st review must be held within 90 days of dispositional hearing or 6 months from date of placement, whichever is sooner. • Subsequent review hearings are held every six months. • The first permanency planning hearing must be held 9 – 12 months from the date of placement, and then held at least every 12 months.
Issues before the court • Services • Have reasonable services been offered to facilitate reunification? • Have all parties complied with the service plan? • Has progress been made toward correcting parental deficiencies? • Are additional services necessary? • Ongoing active efforts if Indian child? • Placement • Is the placement appropriate? • Is there a continuing need for out-of-home placement? • Visitation • Has the child visited with parents and had contact or visits with siblings, and if not why not?
Visitation • Visitation with parents may only be limited or suspended if the court finds that it is detrimental to the child’s health or welfare. • If you are requesting that the court limit or suspend a parent’s visits, you must be able to answer this question: • How is the current visitation plan detrimental to the child?
Permanent plans • Return home • Adoption • Guardianship • Permanent legal custody • Long-term relative or foster care with written agreement • Responsible living skills program • Emancipation