Your child or children have been taken by CPS. Until the real facts are figured out CPS must provide reasonable services to reunify you with your children. So, what is that? Why is this important? And how does it affect you right now? How will it affect you when the courts open back up (at least open back up where they have the capacity to have hearings with the opportunity to provide evidence or due process of law including cross-examination of necessary witnesses)?
When your child is in foster care and before any adjudication of the truth of the allegations (this is called the pre-jurisdictional stage), the social worker must provide referrals to you such as parenting classes, therapy referrals, domestic violence class referrals, anger management referrals, family therapy referrals and visitation with your children (yes, visitation is a service they must provide.) However, the reasonable services/reasonable efforts argument has a different dynamic pre-jurisdiction versus post-disposition at the stage of your juvenile dependency case. CPS/CFS must provide reasonable services – do not let them get away with taking your child and then shelve your file and do nothing!” Either way, the provision of services must be given to families, immediately, when the children are removed from your care.
Initially, when Covid-19 hit our state, social services just STOPPED all visitation between families and children in some counties! Parents have a fundamental right to parent and the children have a fundamental right to be parented by their parents! The reasonable services requirement of visitation was stopped with no real excuse to stop that service! The effect of this action can create a very viable issue in court to litigate for you to receive more time to reunify with your children and frankly SANCTION the Department with having to pay back Federal funding that they gathered when they reported to the feds that they did in fact provide reasonable services to you and your family during Covid-19. When the Department of social services stopped visitation between children and families, due to Covid-19, this violation of fundamental rights was quickly addressed by the courts and social services could no longer use Covid-19 as a basis to stop all visitation. Visitation must be provided on a case by case basis and Covid-19 is NOT a basis to stop visitation between families.
The counties have made adjustments to this recent Court order, some children continue to visit in-person and some still not-in-person, there is some Skype and Facetime visits taking the place of in-person visits. Is this enough? There is nothing that can take the place of an in-person visit between children and their mom and dad or visits with their other siblings if the siblings have been separated, as well. The attorney may want to litigate “no reasonable services” in court, arguing that this Skype, Facetime was not reasonable when social distancing can be accomplished during visitation and if the foster care homes are following the Covid-19 rules and the parents are doing their part to follow Covid-19 guidelines, there is NO excuse for stopping in-person visitation between children and their parents.
What about parenting classes? Anger management courses that the social worker believes you need in order to reunify? I have heard many responses by social services to this new Covid-19 event such as 1. They don’t provide services at all! For example, maybe you were attending a class and the class shut down. Has the social worker addressed options for you? Sent you to a free web site to complete the rest of your classes? Provided you with reading materials? No- I doubt it! These amendments as to how services are provided to families arguably are a reasonable service. Example of cross-examination:
The social worker is on the witness stand:
Q: Isn’t it true that the court ORDERED that you provide parenting classes to the parent, two months ago? Answer: Yes.
Q: Did you? Answer: No, because Covid-19 came into play and all the classes shut down?
Q: What did you do to accommodate that problem? Answer: What? I don’t understand.
Q: Did you, for example, provide literature for the family to read? Answer: no.
Q: Did you, for example, direct them to an online parenting class? Answer: no
Q: Did you, for example, provide them with a voucher of $95.00 to complete a parenting class offered online? Answer: No.
Q: Did you research any options, on-line, for the parent to engage in in order to address this service while classes were shut down? Answer: No.
Your honor, reasonable services were not offered here. The social worker wants you to find TRUE that they provided reasonable services during the last two months and doing nothing is not reasonable. I would ask that you make no reasonable services finding in this case.
Social services (usually depending on what type of case you have) are under a court order or a legislative mandate to provide you with reasonable services during the reunification stage of your case. Sure, you can pay for parenting classes on-line, but what if you lost your job? Will social services pay you back? I doubt it. Depending on who your social worker is—–they often will say any on-line service is not good enough and they want an in-person class! (Interestingly they will still want the court to make a finding that they provided reasonable services, BUT you were in a position of impossibility because you cannot attend the service- it does not exist.) This issue and others are interesting hypocritical positions that can be exposed in court in order to argue no-reasonable services in your case.)
I must note that, Interestingly, in-person visitation cannot be accomplished according to social services at the beginning of the Covid-19 stage and they expected an “excuse” (a free pass) from the court to cover the malfeasance. However, the county may argue that a parent not doing in-person parenting classes is NOT excusable. This is a bit of the hypocrisy many litigators miss in representing parents. Sorry. “You must attend an in-person class to receive credit or this service is not completed in your case plan”, says the social worker. Can you argue reasonable services here? In court? Yes, you can. The court has the ultimate power and the social worker just has her or his opinions. The attorney for the social worker, County Counsel, will surprisingly not understand the hypocrisy or maybe pretend to not understand the hypocrisy that will likely evolve as we head back to court. The court, though, must follow the law.
The law is: “services must be tailored to the unique needs of the family” Covid-19 and its ramifications are certainly unique. The law, interestingly, is already built to protect families during this time due to the fact that services must be tailored to the unique needs of the family. Because of this, many reasonable accommodations can and should be happening right now in your case. Request it and demand it! If you head to court, and the social worker writes a report that you did not satisfy the services you were supposed to attend, and they did not make accommodations, then litigate the reasonable services prong of the law! This IS the time to do it.
Recently, I got a baby home to his parents by having the parents conduct the “services” portion of their case before we got to court. They completed parenting class on-line and they began “virtual therapy”. The argument to the court was this is “reasonable services” in the Covid-19 times! The other argument was that the legislative intent of the juvenile dependency law is to move the cases SWIFTLY through the system. Covid-19 cannot and should not rebuke the legislative intent! We are smart, we can adjust, and COVID 19 is not an excuse to NOT follow the law. The argument worked and the parents won the argument! The child went home.