Written by a California Juvenile Dependency Court Judge, this is a good explanation of how the Juvenile Court Judges simply say things for the record just to secure funding, regardless of the truth or legitimacy. Judges basically have memorized a “script”; simply saying formalities for receiving federal and state funding. For anyone recently attacked by the Juvenile Dependency con artists, this is a MUST read. Make sure you make your attorney objects to Reasonable Efforts claimed by CPS if CPS really did not offer any services prior to removing your children. If your attorney refuses, SPEAK UP! My husband and I REGRET NOT SPEAKING UP. We know it is hard because they rush you right through like cattle and the proceedings can be very intimidating, especially when they have your kids. We were afraid to “rock the boat” in the courtroom. Besides, they always depicted us in such a negative light, a tool they use to demoralize you and strip you of your self-esteem so you don’t fight them.
This is not the complete summary, click on the link at the bottom to see the entire summary.
Reasonable Efforts: A Judicial Perspective
Judge Leonard Edwards, Judge-in-Residence
Center for Families, Children and the Courts
California Administrative Office of the Courts
Judges must address the reasonable efforts issue. If an agency is to be held accountable for its actions, judges must provide rigorous oversight of agency decisions and actions at critical junctures in each child-protection case.
Juvenile and family court judges have been given significant responsibilities with regards to each state’s child welfare system. Pursuant to federal and state laws, judges must oversee many important social-worker decisions in child protection cases. Judges must decide whether an agency acted properly when it removed a child from parental care, whether it provided parents with adequate supportive services during the reunification period and whether it took appropriate actions to ensure a child was placed in a permanent home.
Judges fulfill their responsibilities by finding that the agency either did or did not exercise reasonable efforts in performing its legal duties. For example, at the shelter care hearing or initial hearing, the technical legal findings that a judge might make are either that:
•Reasonable efforts have been made to prevent or eliminate the need for removal.
•Reasonable efforts have not been made to prevent or eliminate the need for removal.
Reasonable efforts is a legal term describing the services and assistance offered by a social service or child protection agency to a child and family members during the life of a child welfare case. It is a term of art, first written into a federal statute—Public Law 96-272, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980—and modified in 1997 by the Adoptions and Safe Families Act (ASFA). Those laws state that a court must make reasonable efforts findings at several critical junctures in each child protection case. First, when a child has been removed from parental care, did the state provide services to eliminate the need for removing the child from the parent?
Second, did the state agency make reasonable efforts to enable the child to be safely reunited with his family?
Third, when the child could not be returned to the parent, did the agency make reasonable efforts to ensure a timely, permanent placement?
Additionally, ASFA added a section that permits states to bypass offering reunification services (reasonable efforts) to parents if parental conduct was so egregious that such efforts would be futile.
In each of these situations, the court has a choice. The court can find that the agency fulfilled its legal obligations to provide adequate services and rule that the agency had made reasonable efforts. If the court finds that the agency did not provide sufficient services or assistance to a child or family, the court would make a finding of no reasonable efforts. Such a finding would have significant fiscal implications for the agency. If federal audits determine that the juvenile court has made no reasonable efforts findings or similar facts indicating that the agency has failed in its obligations to the child and family, the federal government will request reimbursement for some of the Title IV-E funding that it provides to each state to support foster children.
There is no definition of reasonable efforts in the federal law.
What is reasonable depends on the time, place, and circumstances. What may be reasonable in one community may not be in another. It is the judiciary that ultimately determines what is reasonable. The first decision is rendered by the trial judge and—if the issue is appealed—the appellate court will review that finding.
Case law from several states indicates that, on occasion, the legal process has been used to address the reasonableness of services. For example, in a Rhode Island case, the agency removed children from two homeless families. The trial court ordered the Department for Children and Their Families (DCF) to provide housing assistance as a part of the family reunification plan. DCF objected, claiming that the court had no authority to make such an order and that the cost would be prohibitive. The Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed the trial court finding that housing subsidies were consistent with the purpose of family reunification services.
The supreme court referred to the legislative history and concluded that “Without the power to remedy inadequacies, this check would be illusory.”
In a California case, an incarcerated father was not offered or provided any reunification services after his children had been removed from their mother’s care. When the agency moved to terminate his right to reunification services and moved towards termination of parental rights and adoption, he objected. The court of appeals agreed with the father’s position, stating that “there was no substantial evidence reasonable reunification services were offered or provided to the father at any point during the reunification period.”
Without such services, the case could not go forward. The court of appeals ordered the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
For several reasons, judges rarely make no reasonable efforts findings.
First, some judges are not aware of the necessity of reasonable efforts findings. The finding is embedded in the orders that they sign after each court hearing.
Second, because the consequences are so severe for the state, many judges are reluctant to make a no reasonable efforts finding. After all, their own state may stand to lose millions of dollars.
Third, attorneys rarely raise the issue in court. Many believe the issue will not assist their clients and will only waste court time.
Judges must address the reasonable efforts issue. Simply rubber-stamping approval of the agency’s actions ignores the law. If an agency is to be held accountable for its actions, judges must provide rigorous oversight of agency decisions and actions at critical junctures in each child-protection case. Moreover, careful judicial oversight of the agency does not mean that the judge will make numerous no reasonable efforts findings. Some judges have been known to use the threat of such a finding to great effect. One author refers to it as “the art of the no reasonable efforts finding.” Thus a judge might make a no reasonable efforts finding, but suspend or withhold the finding for a short time period, giving the agency the opportunity to address the failure to provide services. If the agency responds appropriately, the judge can delete the finding. Judges can also assist the agency in its efforts to persuade the legislative branch to increase funding for families. Sending a letter to legislators and other community leaders about the impact of a no reasonable efforts finding can be effective.
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