"Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live." ~D. Thompson
 
The argument for the development of the Family Court System was to have all family issues to be heard by one judge.  For example, Family Court might grant dissolutions of marriage and hear a domestic violence case between the same couple.  Other functions include setting spousal support, deciding on paternity cases, handling truancy of a child, handling out of control cases on a child, termination of parental rights and making decisions in dependency, neglect and abuse cases.  The last of these is what I will address primarily in this blog.

First, be reminded that definitions of child abuse, neglect and dependency may be found in Kentucky at KRS 600.020.  This statute basically is defined by some of the following:

The definition of abuse/neglect includes when a child is harmed or threated with harm by a caregiver (parent, custodian, guardian, supervisor) in the following ways:

  • Physical or emotional injury other than by accident.
  • Creates or allows risk of physical or emotional injury other than by accident.
  • Engages in conduct that prevents immediate and ongoing care (alcohol, drug use, other).
  • Continues/repeatedly fails/refuses to provide ‘essential’ parental care/protection as age appropriate.
  • Commits/allows commission of sexual abuse, exploitation or prostitution of child.
  • Creates or allows risk of sexual abuse, exploitation, prostitution of child.
  • Abandons or exploits the child.
  • Does not provide adequate care, supervision, food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care for child’s wellbeing. A clause is added in this one regarding religious beliefs may prevent a finding of negligence but there are exceptions.
  • Dependency is different and may be found in KRS 600.020 (19).  This says that a child is dependent if it is not abused or neglected but is in improper care, custody, control, or guardianship but it is not the fault of the parent or other caregiver. 

     Guess who decides whether or not you have abused, neglected your child or if your child has been determined to be dependent?  Well, this is a complicated process which begins in the following way.  They are in order of how they occur.

    1.  A report is made by an interested party alleging abuse, neglect or dependency.  An interested party could be a relative, friend, teacher, doctor or just about anyone else.

    2. The intake worker (or intake worker and supervisor) determines whether or not the report meets criteria according to law/policy for investigation.  Keep in mind, this decision is not based on fact; it is based on what the reporter said.  If it is found to meet criteria, the reported case goes on to step 3.

    3. The investigative worker begins investigating the allegations and my petition the court for an emergency order to remove your child until the time when it is determined that the child is safe EVEN WHEN THE ALLEGATION IS FALSE!

            a.  A worker may go to a school and interview your children without your permission.
            b.  A worker may run your criminal record, look to see if there have been previous reports (it doesn’t matter the
                 finding in the previous reports); can see if you have any previous court cases or a domestic violence history (as
                 victim or perp) in your past even if the charges were dropped.
            c.  A worker can interview your employer, your friends, your family members, your child’s doctor, your therapist, etc.
                 without your permission.
            d. A worker can gather medical records on your child without your permission.
            e. The boundaries of what an investigator can do are virtually limitless; he/she just has to determine that the
                 information he/she is gathering is relative to the case. As you can imagine, most workers are going to determine 
                 that what they are asking is relative.

    *Investigators are not like detectives at a police station; they go through a classroom training and shadow/follow another worker for a period of time.  These folks are determining whether or not you have abused or neglected your child, a major deal in the lives of parents or other caregivers where this happens.  It is also your word against theirs. There is no recording of interviews (with the exception of a child when a worker decides to) or any other way to prove what people said about you or what you told the worker. These individuals with Bachelor degrees from a university in various fields (not necessarily social work) are deciding guilt or innocence of parents/caregivers.

    4. Once the investigative worker has concluded his/her investigation, you receive a letter with the finding.  It will say something like “Evidence has been found to support the allegations of abuse/neglect.  The case will then be passed on to an on-going worker without your consent. The conclusion is that it has been determined that your case has been substantiated for abuse due to domestic violence (or whatever the issue; it could say drug use, etc.).  If you receive a letter stating this you can do the following:

            a. Appeal the decision on an official appeal form.
            b. Begin working through your case plan/safety plan created by a CPS worker in order to keep custody or regain
                custody of your child/children.

    *Substantiation indicates that the investigator found a preponderance of evidence (enough evidence to support the allegation/whatever was reported to the intake worker).

    5. If you receive a letter that says your case was “unsubstantiated” and you have agreed to accept “services” (they call this a FENSA case) then your case will still be passed on to an on-going worker.  This will allow a worker to monitor you and your family for several months and the time can be extended. If information is gathered during that time that a worker determines may be abuse or neglect, you are reported to an intake worker and the process begins again.  An investigative worker may ask things like “would you like someone to help you with that?” or “our agency can assist your family with needs.” Unless you are emphatic that you are aware of available services and do not need assistance, you will be sent to an ongoing worker and they will develop a case plan as if you were substantiated against.  Here’s the kicker: if you do not carry out that case plan (even though you volunteered) a worker can petition the court for emergency custody to remove children based on you not following through on your case plan and he/she can also take other action like requiring you to attend counseling you may not be able to afford or take parenting classes.  If you refuse “services” when your case in unsubstantiated, you case is closed. No more worker involvement.

    6. An on-going worker will sit down with parents (or other adults in the household) and create a case plan/safety plan that you are expected to follow through on.  It is based on what the worker believes you need and this may not be in agreement with what you believe.

    7. If you accept services voluntarily or your case is substantiated and you are forced into “services”, you are required to work through your case plan. Remember, an on-going worker has quite a bit of power in your life.  He/she can petition Family Court for emergency custody, make recommendations to the court based on what they believe (according to the worker’s perception). 

    8. If a child is removed either during investigation or during on-going case services, know that it is VERY difficult to regain custody with the exception of a small number of cases.  Ultimately, the power lies in the hands of the Family Court judge who depends on CPS reporting for decision making.

    9. If a child is not removed, it can be difficult to get CPS out of your life.  They can come into your home any day of the week and at any time during the case to inspect your home for safety, cleanliness, parenting skills, etc. There are few limitations. They are also still able to access other information from schools, doctors and others he/she sees as relative.  You are expected to perform perfectly according to the case plan which has the requirements that you are expected to fulfill prior to regaining custody and/or to retain custody.

    10.   Once your case is closed, you may be asked to continue some action such as attend therapy or keep all medical appointments for your children; there can be an assortment of requirements. So, in the future if you are reported again and have not done what was asked, you may be found in violation of the case plan. This can be grounds for recommendation of removal.

    According to law, the power lies with the Family Court judge to issue emergency removal orders and make decisions BUT in most cases, the judge will tell a parent to “follow the recommendations of the cabinet” (CPS).  If CPS says you did not follow recommendations, the judge will not be kind in decision making. 

    What I am trying to emphasize in this blog is that while the Family Court has an important role and has power to make decisions such as removal or return of children and even termination of parental rights, in most cases the judge will follow the worker’s recommendation; recommendations made by on-going workers which may or may not be based on facts or are based on facts as they see it.  For example, perhaps the worker put “find and acquire appropriate housing” on your case plan and you moved back in with your parents.  The worker knows that you do not have enough beds in the home for the children so it is not seen as “appropriate housing”. You have violated your case plan. Another example might be that the worker asked you to get employment and you have looked for months and been unable to locate something that is full time so you can’t afford the family counseling that the worker is requiring.  You are in violation of your case plan. Recommendations based on progress of your case plan is made by the worker to the court and used by the worker to make decisions as well.  Can you see the distinction between the power of Family Court and CPS workers?  Your family’s future may lay in the hands of a worker whose life perspective may be very different; He/she may be poorly trained, be biased in some way or have some other factor which guides decisions.

    Final Advice: Regardless of the stage to which your case is in whether it is investigations, on-going or you are in the middle of a termination of parental rights, tape all conversations with workers and others (during family team meetings, personal interviews, etc.-check your state laws for the rules on recording), label your recordings (the most organized frequently wins) and keep them for future use. If you can afford it, find a lawyer to represent you!  I don’t know how many times, I have heard a worker groan when he/she heard a lawyer was involved in a case.  File appeals if you do not agree with decisions in the case; this can be any decision from set visitation to removal to overturning a substantiated case.  If a judge has acted unethically, report the judge. It takes a little research to figure where to file a report of that nature.  When all else fails and you know that you have done nothing wrong (you can make mistakes as a parent; there is no manual), keep a positive attitude and be polite but diligent in your pursuit of justice.  As a parent, you have a God-given right to protect the rights of your child and your family. 

    If you are guilty of abuse or neglect, I encourage you to still do the research to make sure you are not judging yourself too harshly and if you still find you are guilty according to the laws of your state, take responsibility, make amends; it is never too late to create a new dream and set a new path.  You are the example of what a parent should act like toward their children. Be a positive example.
 


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    Author

    The author is an educator and has extensive dealings with child protection services. She is knowledgable of the laws and policies and hopes to impart some wisdom and information that can assist and elicit change. Please note that none of the information or advice should be a substitute for independent research and/or seeking out legal counsel.

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