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When I represent parents in CPS cases, the first thing I do is look at the family’s strengths and vulnerabilities. With my client as my partner, I strive to understand what has led the family into the dependency system. Together, we come up with a course of action to get the family and the child reunified and out of the system as soon as possible.
Over the past 10 years handling these cases, I have seen some patterns where parents struggle. These parents may be different but they run into the same road blocks. These cases are emotional and ripe with interpersonal conflicts. Here are some of the issues I see that can be barriers to reunification but can also be overcome:
1. Poor relationship with the case-carrying social worker.
This biggest obstacle I see in dependency cases I handle or review on appeal are strained relationships between the parents and the social worker. Occasionally I see a client who really shines and wins over the heart of the social worker. But this client is the exception and not the rule. When dealing with a government actor who has removed a parent’s child, most parents feel angry and distrustful. Sometimes the social worker seems to make the road for parents more difficult that it truly has to be. Some parents engage in real conflict with social workers. The social worker may never be your friend but she doesn’t have to be to reunify with your child.
I never advise my clients to argue with their social worker. Arguing with the social worker is a clear demonstration that the client misunderstands the role and their own ability to navigate this process without anger and conflict. Every parent’s goal is to look good. My goal is to make the parent look good! Arguing, hanging up on, and sending nasty emails to the social worker will not accomplish this. I tell parents to let me be the litigious, aggressive one in the equation. Let me handle the fighting inside the court room. You focus on getting your child back.
2. Wasted visitation time with the child.
Visitation is the only way to preserve a bonded parent-child relationship. Every single visit with a child should be made unless it would cause the child or the parent harm because of sickness. Every moment of that visit should be spent engaging with the child and fostering the parent-child relationship. I see parents waste their visitation taking videos of the visitation monitor, calling the social worker, complaining, or trying to talk about the case with the children (which is never allowed.) These are signs to me that the parent has lost sight of the goal which is reunification with the child because he or she feels victimized with the system.
At the end of the day, the only way to reunify with a child is to avail one’s self of visits, to foster the bond, to behavior lovingly to the child and to behave appropriately with everyone else.
3. Not engaging in services.
Many parents who are in the dependency system feel that the services they are require to complete are not tailored to them or are even a waste of time. Some of the treatment providers may be inexperienced, judgmental or even rude. It is unfair that parents have to deal with some of these providers but the court has ordered the parents to participate. If parents feel the service providers are a bad fit, they can ask for a new therapist. I have represented clients where I have had to refer them to a new therapist a year into therapy once I learned the provider was incompetent or biased against the parents. Parents should look at their services as an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to engage, problem solve, and deal with challenges without conflict. They should consult with their attorneys to make sure they are on the right path and that the attorney knows whether a new practitioner should be requested.
My goal in dependency cases is to allow my clients to shine as parents. Once we get past the many emotional interpersonal barriers these cases are full of, they can really succeed.