The more detailed your plan is when it comes to visiting your child during a Child Protective Services (CPS) case, the better off you and your child will be. You, your child, your family, CPS and the court must have enough information in order to understand how the visits that have been planned will benefit your child and your family. As someone who has likely never been involved in a CPS case before, you need to learn how visitation works and how to manage your and your child’s expectations surrounding visitation sessions.
Part of navigating this process is making a determination with the help of CPS as to what should and what should not happen before, during and after these visits. Remember that you are not simply picking your child up from school, taking him for dinner and going about your normal routine. Now that CPS is involved and a very serious case has been filed with the courts you will not be able to have as much free reign with your child as you did before CPS became involved in your life. Discussion of the case, the role of CPS, when exactly your child will be returned home, your opinions regarding your child’s foster family and other subjects like this probably should not be discussed, for example.
Establish goals in clear and concise language
If you have already been to court or have read through any of the documents provided to you by CPS, then you are probably aware that legal language is not necessarily easy to understand. The subject matter itself isn’t rocket science but the words that are used to describe the subject matter may as well be. This is why you need to ask CPS, and your attorney if you have one, to make sure the language utilized in any visitation planning is simple to understand. Non-lawyer language tends to work best for all parties involved.
Visitation is all about establishing some degree of normalcy during a CPS case. This is true both for your child and for you. Your child may be suffering harm if he or she is not able to see you for long stretches of time. So, a simple goal of visitation for your family may be to maintain your child’s emotional development by allowing for consistent visitation with you. That visitation may be supervised at the beginning of your case but your child just wants to see you. The same can be said for brothers and sisters of your child who are not involved in the case. If they are able to, visitation between the siblings and your child involved in the CPS case is encouraged.
What are your expectations for visitation?
You and CPS need to work together to establish reasonable expectations for how these visitation sessions will go. Part of establishing expectations is going over what behaviors are not suitable for meet these expectations that you have. Whether you know it or not, what you say and do can have long-lasting effects not only on the well-being of your child but also on the path that your CPS case takes.
How are you expected to act during a CPS visitation session? That’s the question that we need to answer right now before we go any further in this discussion. It may surprise you to learn that most of the visitation that you are provided with at the beginning of your case will be supervised by a CPS caseworker. You will come to a CPS facility and have some space with your child, but the CPS employee will be able to observe how you interact with your child.
Since you will be watched in this way, you need to know ahead of time how to conduct yourself. Some of these will seem like no-brainers to many of you, but I have learned in my time practicing family law that many people and many families do not behave the same with children as others. I am not here to tell you how to behave in your personal life and have no preference as to how you behave with your child- as long as your child is safe.
Here are some behaviors that I can point out to you that it would be worthwhile for you to keep in mind as you begin your visitation schedule with your child:
-do not fail to discipline your child just because CPS is observing. Letting your child get away with bad behavior just because you think that you will be judged for having disciplined your child is a bad idea. There is a fine line, of course, between proper and excessive discipline in some cases. Talk to your CPS caseworker beforehand about what is appropriate in terms of disciplining your child. Remember- that little boy or girl is your child and you need to act that way. It is possible to discipline a child without involving physical means to do so.
-I can think of little else that would be worse for you than to come to a visitation session with your child after having just consumed alcohol or drugs. You need to have a clear head and remain sober for the duration of your visitation session. You are provided relatively little time with your child during a CPS case and you need to take advantage of every opportunity you get to spend time with him or her. On top of that, you are likely under court orders not to consume alcohol or drugs and a drug/alcohol test could be administered upon you by court order at any time
-work with CPS before the first visitation session to establish what is not appropriate in terms of physical contact with language with your child. Some parents have particular ways of interacting with their children that, for whatever reason, CPS does not deem to be appropriate in most cases. In order to put this CPS case in your rearview mirror, it is important that you play the game by their rules. This means engaging in play and dialogue with your child that does not cross whatever lines that CPS has for you. Speak to them about this or else you will probably never know what they have in mind
-come to the visitation session with clothes, toys, food or anything else that you think is important to give to your child. If you know that your child left your home without their winter coat and the weather is now getting chilly it is smart to pack that ahead of time and have it ready to go for the visitation session. Do not spend your last few minutes at home frantically packing these items, however. It is not a good excuse to show up late for your appointment because you were packing clothes for the kids
-speaking of showing up late for a visit, if you are running late or need to miss the visit for any reason you need to call CPS as soon as possible. The expectation is that you will move heaven and earth in order to make each of the short visitation sessions that are made available to you. However, emergencies come up, people get sick and other issues arise that make it difficult for you to keep the appointment. All you can do in that case is call your CPS caseworker ahead of time to let them know. Do not fail to call and warn CPS. Again, you are being judged in all facets of your parenting at this stage in your case
How will your visitation schedule be determined?
Part of the process of setting up visitation with your child during a CPS case is working around your and your child’s schedules. Depending on your work schedule, the schedule of your other kids and the schedule of the CPS caseworker, you may need to get creative on how to craft a visitation schedule.
In addition to work, you likely have parenting classes and other required events that you need to attend and complete in order to meet the goals of your safety or service plan. CPS will take these responsibilities in addition to your child’s responsibilities as school or extracurricular activities are concerned. The person who will be monitoring your visitation schedule has limits to how frequent he or she can administer these visitation meetings, as well.
Reviewing the visitation plan document
A visitation plan document will be made available to you and will be kept in your child's CPS case file for the duration of your case. It will list the persons with whom your child can visitor who can be present with you during a visitation session. You, your spouse, your child's siblings, and extended family are usually the extent of the people that you will be able to bring to the visitation session with you.
Each date, the length of the visit for that particular date and the start/end times for each visitation session will be specified as well. I like the old adage: to be unclear is to be unkind. Your caseworker is not doing you any favors by making your plan "flexible" or leaving wiggle room as far as how long a visitation can last. Work with the caseworker to get the specific language and start/stop times included in your plan. It will reduce the number of questions and misunderstandings that each party has in relation to visitation issues.
Part of the specifics that ought to be included in the visitation plan document is details regarding where the visitation sessions will occur, arrangements for the supervision aspects of the visitation schedule and how transportation will be facilitated for you and your child. Any logistical detail that you can possibly think of that needs to be included in this plan should be spelled out for you and your child. Think hard ahead of time so that there are no issues that spring up that catch you all off guard.
Who will be included in these visits?
CPS will work with you and your family to assess what people in your child's life have established a strong and significant bond with that child. Think of it this way- if your child were not able to see a certain person (Aunt, uncle, parent, grandparent, sibling) would their emotional development be harmed as a result. These are typically people that your child would see on a weekly, if not daily basis. The cousin that would come by your house once every couple of months is probably not someone who falls into this category.
It is in the best interests of your child that he or she be able to maintain her relationship with persons like this. These people should be worked into any visitation planning that you take part in with CPS. Even parents who to this point have not played a role, in this case, should be given consideration when it comes to visitation with your child. CPS will likely make an effort to identify any absent parents when your child is removed from your home and placed into temporary custody with CPS. Anyone who can help to assist in building a better future for your child will be sought out.
More CPS visitation essentials will be shared in tomorrow’s blog post
If you have any questions or comments about today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to share with us your story and to get direct feedback about your specific circumstances.
Our attorneys work in every family court in southeast Texas and have achieved superior results for our clients in those venues. We know that your situation is the most important thing in the world to you and your family, and that is something we take seriously when representing a client like yourself. Thank you for sharing part of your day with us in reading this blog post.