On July 1, 2016, Georgia implemented a new Child Abuse Registry, a database that contains the names of individuals who have been substantiated by DFCS for child abuse or neglect. Individuals whose names have been included in the Child Abuse Registry may appeal to the Office of State Administrative Hearings to be removed from the registry. Here is a paper I wrote giving basic information about the child abuse registry to attorneys interested handling these appeals.
Georgia's new child abuse registry
The June 2015 issue of The Guardian features a response article about Shaken Baby Syndrome that I co-wrote with Keith Findley, Katherine Judson, Melissa Staas, Diane Redleaf, and Dr. Charles Hyman. The article raises concerns about the diagnostic reliability of certain medical findings that are used as the basis for allegations of child abuse and emphasizes the duty of child welfare attorneys to investigate their cases and to look critically at any medical diagnosis that purports to draw a legal conclusion. A free copy of this article can be downloaded from the Social Science Research Network.
In July of 2014, the Atlantic published an article entitled When the State Takes Kids Away From Parents: Three Perspectives. The article features the story of a father whose family was subjected to a lengthy and invasive CPS investigation after a doctor at an urgent care clinic reported concerns of child neglect. As I read the this father’s account, I found myself wishing that he and his wife had hired an attorney to represent them. Under Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 15-11-103) all parties to a dependency case have the right to an attorney, but that right does not attach until a case actually comes before the court. Parents who are being investigated by CPS are often unaware that they can and should hire an attorney to represent them. CPS has a duty to investigate all credible allegations of child abuse or neglect and the failure to perform that duty has resulted in some of the horrific stories we have seen in the news over the past few years. At the same time, parents have a duty to protect their children from unnecessary trauma and to protect their families from unreasonable invasions of privacy. There is an inherent lack of trust between parents and investigators that can lead to miscommunication, lack of cooperation, prolonged investigations, and sometimes to the unnecessary removal of children to foster care. An experienced child welfare attorney can:
• identify what information must be shared with CPS
• advise the parents about information they have the right to keep private
• protect the children and family from unnecessary stigmatization
• prevent the unnecessary removal of children from the home
• prevent an investigator from overstepping his or her authority
• neutralize threats made by overzealous or unethical investigators
• shorten the duration of a CPS investigation.
CPS investigations, even those where no abuse or neglect is found, can have serious consequences. Protect your rights. Call an attorney.
Visitation between parents and children in foster care is presumed under Georgia’s new Juvenile Code to be unsupervised unless the Court determines that unsupervised visitation is not in the child’s best interest. To parents, supervised visitation can feel like a penalty, but I counsel my clients that it doesn’t have to be. Especially when the child in foster care is an infant, third party reports from supervised visitation play a huge part in how DFCS and the Court view parents and the parent-child relationship. Supervised visitation is an opportunity for parents to demonstrate to the Court that they are loving, capable, and working hard to achieve reunification. I have always given my clients advice on making the most of visits with their infant and I recently compiled that advice into a VISITATION CHECKLIST FOR PARENTS WITH AN INFANT IN FOSTER CARE. I hope that parents and parent attorneys will use and distribute this document, so that in their cases, supervised infant visitation can be a blessing rather than a curse.
Sometimes young people in foster care become parents. Prior to 2011, a baby born to a teen in foster care would automatically be taken into DFCS custody. In January 2011, DFCS amended Policy 1003.13 in order to allow teen parents in foster care the opportunity to retain custody of their own children. This change is now part of Policy 9.10, which states:
“When a minor mother in foster care gives birth to a child, DFCS should consider the age, capabilities and desires of the minor parent to care for the baby if the two are residing together in the same placement. The child shall remain in the custody of his or her minor parent, unless it is otherwise determined that the minor parent’s protective capacities place the child in imminent danger of serious harm and the placement resource’s capacities are not sufficient to mitigate the risk of harm.”
Unfortunately, even with this policy in effect, some DFCS offices continue to follow the old practice of taking emergency custody of the newborn regardless the quality of care the young mother is providing. In May of 2012, the Court of Appeals reversed the order of a Juvenile Court that found a newborn child, S.D., deprived and awarded custody of him to DFCS. Carol Riley from the Fulton County Office of the Child Attorney represented S.D.'s mother and I represented S.D. At trial, the DFCS case manager testified that the only reason DFCS filed its deprivation petition was because the mother herself was in DFCS care and because of possible future deprivation. DFCS did not present any evidence that S.D.’s mother was not properly caring for him or that he was at risk of harm. Instead, the evidence showed that S.D.’s mother had been taking parenting classes, was working with a life coach from Teen Parent Connection, and was very attentive to S.D. The Court of Appeals reversed the Juvenile Court’s order and noted in its published opinion that “we find no authority providing that there is a presumption of deprivation of a child simply because the child’s mother is also in DFCS care…” This case was a victory for S.D. and his mother, but the fight continues.
You can read S.D.’s case here.
LEAVING KIDS HOME ALONE
Beginning in October of 2014, the Meitav family of Silver Spring, Maryland was investigated three times by CPS for allowing their children, ages 6 and 10, to play at a neighborhood park and to walk home without direct adult supervision. Their case was finally closed in May of 2015, but parents in all 50 states were left wondering where CPS in their state draws the line between nurturing independence and committing child neglect. Georgia law does not provide any specific guidance on this issue, but on its website in 2007, Georgia DFCS provided the following guidelines for leaving a child alone without adult supervision:
•Children under 8 years should never be left home alone, even for short periods of time.
•Children between the ages of 9 and 12, based on level of maturity, can be left home alone for brief periods of time.
•Children 13 and older can generally be left as babysitters, with the exception of children in foster care. It is not recommended, however, that 13-year-olds babysit infants, small children and children that require special attention due to medical conditions.
•Children 15 and older can be left home alone overnight, depending on the level of maturity of the child.
More recently, Cherokee County DFCS published more detailed guidelines about leaving children home alone, including additional considerations for children under the age of 13.