As a parent, you have a constitutional right to the custody of your children unless they are deemed to be in harm’s way due to actions or even inactions of a parent. Parental rights have limits when it comes to a child’s welfare and the government has the power to intervene and if the harm is serious enough they will physically remove the child from parental custody in order to protect him or her. However, the government is required to give parents a reasonable opportunity to regain custody and a chance to fix the problems that led to their child being taken away. Ultimately, it is everyone’s hope that the children can be reunited with their family in a much better situation without fear of harm.
In the beginning, parents are often angry with Child Protective Services for taking their children away from them, but trust us, this will not gain custody of the children back. Every case is different, but this blog will discuss some general things for parents to consider when working with CPS and social workers.
Let’s back up to the very beginning before the child is actually taken out of parental custody. The Division of Children and Family Services is made up of social workers, investigators, and attorneys that investigate and litigate allegations of child mistreatment. The most common reason CPS is contacted by someone is to report abuse or neglect of a child by the parents. Once notified, if the allegations are serious, a child-welfare check may be planned. During the check, if the child is in imminent danger, they will take custody of the child for 72 hours. Occasionally, during that time if CPS determines the child can be returned safely, they will return him or her home. That is rare, in most cases; an emergency petition for custody with the Circuit Court in the appropriate county is filed. This is when they will name the alleged facts that led to the emergency hold. If after all the appropriate steps are taken and the situation is determined to be harmful to the child, they will be placed in foster care.
The first thing you need to remember is that foster care doesn’t have to be forever. In fact, nearly 70% of all children who leave foster care go home either to parents or to a relative. Family reunification is almost always the first goal of the system. The system is actually designed to aid parents that fully participate in the services offered to strengthen their skills to become the best parent they can be for their child. In many cases our firm handles, the parents did not grow up with a parental role model and do not know how to parent properly. These services are designed to break that cycle.
In order to assure your child is able to come home, the parent(s) must fully understand why they are there and fully participate in the case to make the family home safe for the child’s return. Visiting children in foster care shows CPS that you are committed to your children. It also helps the children know that you haven’t abandoned them and offers a peace of mind that you will be reunited. If visits move along as they should, they will go from supervised to unsupervised, become longer leading to overnight and weekend visits. These are all good signs to the courts that you as a family are progressing in the right direction. The court may even allow a “trial home visit” to allow the children to live at home on a trial basis, but CPS maintains legal custody for a period of time.
Once the parent(s) have completed the specific case plan goals and CPS and the courts believe the children can safely be returned home, they will order them to be officially and legally reunited with the parents. After reunification, the case may be open for a while to assure the children remain out of harm’s way.
As with all cases, each one is unique to the particular situation, you should always check with an attorney that specializes in family law before taking any action. Kevin Hickey Law Partners has years of experience dealing with CPS, divorce, child custody and all things related to family law. Call us today for a consultation to see what your next steps should be.