CHILD WELFARE SERVICE SAFETY PLANS CAN BE GOOD, CAN BE DECEPTIVE, OR CAN BE DEADLY
When a child abuse report is made to the Child Abuse Hotline an emergency services worker is assigned to investigate the referral. Depending on the threat level reported it might be an immediate visit to your home or a visit that takes place several days later. The emergency protective worker (CPS) can, after investigating, leave your child in your custody but ask you to sign and agree to a Safety Plan. If you don’t agree to the Safety Plan you are told they will most probably initiate a child dependency case in juvenile court and your children will be taken from your home.
Safety Plans Can Be Good
For example, the police are called to a home because of reported domestic violence between the parents. There are minor children in the home. They may or may not have witnessed the incident(s) between the parents. The father was arrested and taken to jail. He may face criminal charges. The Child Protective Services (CPS) worker will want to make sure the father, if he bails out of custody, does not return to the home and further violence take place. The mother may be requested to get a Family Court restraining order against her husband. The mother will be told there can be no visits by the father with the children until some form of supervised visitation can be arranged and those visits cannot supervised by mother. Mother is told the Safety Plan is for 30 days. In the above scenario the alleged abusive parent could have been the wife. These types of scenarios, whether for domestic violence, drugs, alcohol abuse, someone else in the home causing violence, sex and physical abuse allegations, or mental health concerns, play out on a daily basis in our communities. As a general rule, if the police are called to the home and there are minor children in the home that might potentially be at risk a child abuse referral will be made by the police to the local CPS agency.
Safety Plans Can Be Deceptive
In the above scenario, if the mother agreed to the Safety Plan the children will remain with her for the time being. What the mother is not told is the plan she signed is a Temporary Safety Plan. CPS has no intention of walking away from this family at the end of 30 days. Safety Plans generally are for six months and depending on the progress of the family can be re-initiated for another six months. If the family refuses to sign up for another six months, the CPS agency is likely to start juvenile dependency proceedings in the local Juvenile Court and allege your children are at risk in your home and most likely try to have them removed.
The first CPS worker to come to the home is an emergency response worker. They will turn your case over to another CPS worker who will then start the interview and evaluation process all over again. If the second CPS worker and their supervisors are okay with the initial Safety Plan, they will have the family sign a second Safety Plan. This second Safety Plan document will not have anything on it saying it is for 30 days.
Safety Plans Can Be Deadly If Violated
A number of families are lulled into believing that once the 30 days of the initial Safety Plan have passed that the family can reunite and everything is the same as it was before. WRONG! Because CPS workers don’t reside in your home they want to make sure you are abiding by the terms and intent of the Safety Plan. As soon as they see you are violating the terms or intent of the plan, they can stop the process, take your children, report to the court you were offered a Safety Plan and that you intentionally violated it. You say the 30 days had passed, nobody specifically told me my husband, wife, son, or whomever was asked to leave, could not return home so I let them back in the home. You will be told you should have known better so too bad. You are told another CPS worker would be contacting you. Without waiting to be contacted, you should contact CPS to ask what you should do. They will say you let the offending parent or other person back in the home or allowed them to visit the children when you were told they could not. We cannot trust you or your judgment.
What Should A Parent Do?
1. You want to keep custody of your children. Co-operate with and agree to the Safety Plan. Abide by the conditions no matter how unfair you think they may be. Don’t be fooled into thinking the Safety Plan is only for 30 days. Until a CPS worker tells you it is allowed, do not start allowing something you agreed not to do. If you lose temporary custody of your kids to CPS and the Court, you could end up losing them for good. If you cannot reach your CPS worker or have not heard from one since the initial visit, call the CPS office. Talk to a CPS Supervisor to find out whose is assigned to your case and what you should do.
2. Consult with an experienced lawyer who deals with these kinds of cases. Call your local Lawyer/Attorney Referral Service and get a recommendation for a lawyer(s). Generally they will do a brief free consultation with you on the phone. Until the case gets to court you will not have the services of an appointed lawyer/public defender to assist you. Many CPS workers will tell you if the matter gets to court there are court assigned lawyers who can help you. The most crucial time for help is when you get that first visit from a social worker and sign that initial Safety Plan. You desperately need good advice as to how you should proceed with CPS.
3. Safety Plans can be modified as you and your family progress in services. Seek consultation with an experienced lawyer to assist in trying to get the plan modified. CPS has guidelines for their workers as to how to handle specific types of cases. They can be rigid, onerous and seem very unfair to many parents. In many domestic violence cases, the parents are told they must split up, get a restraining order, have no contact between them, and the father/mother cannot visit the children unless CPS or someone they choose supervises the visits. Parents without legal consultation think their situations do not warrant such burdensome/unfair conditions and sneak visits. CPS will find out. They will then take your kids and you will have a much steeper uphill battle getting them back. Far too many cases, when parents violate the Safety Plans, end up with the parents losing their parental rights and their kids being put up for adoption. Don’t be fooled by misinformation or taking too lightly what is being required of you.