When the Department decides to remove children from their parent’s care, it has one of two options; it can chose to provide the parent(s) with a case plan, or not. A proposed reunification case plan, is a list of tasks/services, that the Department wants the parent(s) to complete before they are reunified with their children. If the Department chooses to not offer a reunification case plan, it is likely seeking to initiate termination of parental rights proceedings. If that is the case, you need to discuss your options with an attorney who is familiar with Dependency Law as soon as possible.
A reunification case plan is meant to address the specific issues that brought the children into care. For example, if the allegation against the parent is “neglect as a result of exposure to substance abuse,” the case plan might expect the parent to submit to a Substance Abuse Evaluation and follow all of the recommendations. It will also likely include random drug screens. If the allegation against the parent is for neglect as a result of exposure to domestic violence; the alleged perpetrator of the violence, will likely have to attend a Batterers’ Intervention Program. In general, most case plans will also include some staple “tasks” for the parent such as “proof of housing,” “proof of income,” and “communicate with your case manager every 14 days.” Depending on the facts of your particular case, the Department might propose; a psychological evaluation, parenting classes, a parental fitness evaluation, a psychosexual evaluation, etc. Once the Court approves and orders the Department’s proposed case plan, it becomes an obligation. Meaning, the parent will have to comply with the reunification case plan, in order to be reunified with their children.
Case plans can often be cumbersome. Furthermore, the act of removing a child from their parent, can leave both the child and the parent traumatized. Often parents will feel as if their children are being held “hostage” by the Department. An attorney can help the parent understand the Court’s reasoning behind ordering the case plan, and more importantly, how to use the case plan in order to get their children back as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, if you chose to use the Department’s providers to comply with your case plan, you might be stuck on a waiting list for quite some time. Depending on which county you live in, an appointment for an evaluation can take weeks, if not months. It is important for a parent to know which providers will be approved by the Department and the Court. Otherwise, an attempt to be proactive can quickly turn into a costly and useless mistake.
One of the most aggravating issues our clients face is the unrealistic expectation of maintaining a job, while completing other case plan tasks. For example, random drug screens, will often occur while a parent is at work. Sometimes, a parent might be expected to comply with that drug screen within a couple of hours. Most parents cannot realistically leave their jobs on such short notice, without facing serious repercussions or expulsion.
When this happens, it is important to discuss these issues with your attorney. If your employer can provide you with a work schedule, you should provide that to your attorney. Your attorney can then argue that your case manager should take your work schedule into account.
It is important for parents to know that the Court does prioritize some case plan tasks over others, and does not expect parents to excel in all of the tasks at the same time. It is also important for parents to know that you might not necessarily need to complete your case plan before you are reunified with your children. Your attorney can discuss what it means for a parent to “meet conditions for return,” and how a parent can be reunified before completing a case plan.
In general, if you are having trouble juggling several case plan tasks at once, it is important to prioritize the tasks that “brought your child into care,” from the Department’s perspective. The Court will find more value in a parent completing a substance abuse evaluation over attending a parenting class. The Court will also likely be more impressed with a parent that attends their random drug screens (and tests negative) over a parent that missed their screens in order to look for employment. It might be necessary to temporarily lighten your burden by moving in with family members or friends, in order to attend the substantive tasks in your case plan. That being said, it is important for you to talk to your attorney about who you are moving in with, and whether their background will hurt or help your chances at reunification.
Consider setting up a consultation with our firm in order to discuss your specific Dependency case. We would be happy to provide you with the legal information you need.