If you are involved with CPS in a case involving your child, they will invariably ask to talk to you about involving your family as a support network in caring for your child's best interests. The two main ways your family can get involved to help out are in Family Group Conferences and Family Team Meetings. While these may sound pretty similar, they are quite different, despite both being used to help you utilize your family as a means to help keep your child safe.
Family Team Meetings
Before the time that CPS files a petition in court to take temporary custody of your child and to remove them from your home, you will have an opportunity to attend a family team meeting. These meetings are also helpful for CPS because by meeting with you and your support system, a CPS caseworker can make better decisions if there are safety concerns regarding your child that need to be addressed in an immediate sense. The best-case scenario for all parties would be to have these safety issues addressed while allowing your child to remain living in your home.
You do not have to attend a family team meeting. There will not be a court order (at this stage, at least) that orders you to attend. The downside of choosing not to attend one of these meetings is that you will lose out on an opportunity to talk to CPS about what is needed to ensure your child's safety. There may be misconceptions that you can clear up at one of these meetings that causes your investigation to conclude faster, as well. The ball is in your court to attend the meeting, put your best foot forward, and hopefully avoid a situation where your child is removed from your home.
Your relatives and friends can attend the meeting, and it is encouraged that immediate family does so. A plan to keep your child safe is the goal of each of these meetings. If these folks can help you create a plan to remedy any unsafe conditions in your home or to better parent your child on an issue involving their safety, then you will be better off.
Family Group Conferences
Unlike the group meetings that occur before your child has been removed from your home, a Family Group Conference is often scheduled after your child has already been removed and is living in foster care or with a relative of yours. You hold the cards regarding who you want to invite to the meeting. Teachers, counselors, relatives, neighbors, and friends are all people that likely can share crucial information and perspective when it comes to keeping your child safe and out of harm's way.
Like in a family team meeting, the purpose of the family group conference is to develop a plan that seeks to keep your child safe and to brainstorm how to continue to do this after the time that your child is returned to your home. Since courtroom proceedings will have already begun at this stage, it is wise to have an attorney with you at this conference. Speaking to your lawyer before the conference will allow her to know what your goals are in the conference and if you have concerns about any aspect of the CPS investigation to that stage.
While CPS may at this point be more a part of your life than you would like, a CPS caseworker will allow you and your family to take the lead as far as coming up with a plan to parent your child safely. After all, you all know your child better than anyone, CPS included. CPS will need to approve the plan you all come up with, but your plan can be creative and flexible to suit your family better.
Keep in mind that the plan you and your family create will need to be followed precisely. Just because your family is helping you with your case does not mean that they can break an agreement in the plan to suit you. It is evident that you miss your child and want to see them badly. However, this does not mean that you should have an "off the record" conversation with the family member that has been housing your child to schedule a visitation session that is not included in your plan. Trust is a crucial part of the family group conference, and it is crucial that this trust not be broken for the plan to be a success for you and your family.
What is a service plan?
CPS will invariably have concerns about the safety and well-being of your child if they choose to continue an investigation. With that said, when a service plan is hatched, it will include services that you need to follow through and complete to have your child returned to your home.
The most common aspects of a service plan include getting treatment for anger management or substance addiction. Along with these classes and support groups, drug testing will occur semi-regularly. If you have been a victim of domestic violence or abuse, you're leaving home, and living in a shelter may be part of the plan to allow your child to return to your home.
Review the service plan created before signing it. Even though you will have been present to create the plan, that does not mean that there won't be some aspect of the plan that you don't understand. Ask your attorney about any provision that you may be unclear about before agreeing to sign the document. You're saying that you did not understand a portion of the plan as a justification for your having violated it is not an excuse.
Your plan can be as ambitious as you make it be. Keep in mind that what you agree to as far as attending therapy, classes, counseling sessions, and visiting with your child all take away hours from the day. You will need to figure out how you can balance your schedule with your child's needs and this CPS case. Do not bite off more than you can chew in a service plan.
What if you grow to disagree with the terms of your service plan?
Do not just sign a service plan that your caseworker from CPS comes up with on their own. You need to take an active and involved role in its creation so that it suits your parenting strengths, addresses your weaknesses, and suits your schedule. After agreeing to its terms, you need to do your best to meet every obligation agreed to. You are responsible for its completion- not your spouse or your CPS caseworker. Your caseworker is an excellent resource for learning how to start achieving the goals of your safety plan, however.
The most significant risk you take in not completing the assignments given to you in your service plan is the termination of your parental rights. Ask CPS and your family for assistance in completing the items in your service plan- don't try to do it alone if you are experiencing issues.
The benefits of hiring a family law attorney in your CPS case- tomorrow's blog post subject
It is highly beneficial to your case to have an attorney representing you. That will be the focus of tomorrow's blog post as we go over the role your attorney plays in your CPS case.
If you have questions for an attorney, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, today. We can schedule a free-of-charge consultation with one of our attorneys on your behalf where your questions can be answered, and your concerns can be addressed.