“Open Up! We are here from Child Protective Services and we need to speak with you.”
With that, the curtain rises on what is, for almost all families, a nightmare. Beginning with that phrase, a parent has to defend their ability to be in their child’s life from a system that is geared to assume the worst. As a society, we have adopted laws to protect children from abuse, to deliver them from evil inflicted upon them in their own homes and to reassure ourselves that we do not turn a blind eye to the neglect of young people’s welfare. We have also empowered a system that, all too often, tears families apart and places vulnerable children into even greater danger. How do we balance these risks? In theory, we balance these in the juvenile dependency court.
Ideally, the system we create would be attentive to the specifics of each family’s reality and culture. Ideally, the social workers vested with this power would have enough time and resources to see the truth and enough wisdom to use their power carefully. Ideally, foster families would all be carefully screened for mental health and empathy in addition to having the resources and stability necessary to take in abused and neglected children. But ours is not an ideal world. We substitute ‘one-size-fits-all’ for a customized, individualized approach. We overload caseworkers who, all too often, give in to bitterness and prejudice and take their authority to act as a license to decide who is ‘good enough’ to parent children. We create such an overwhelming need for foster families that willingness overtakes qualification and sometimes children are delivered into far more dangerous situations than the ones they had at home. At no point, do these failures of the system invalidate the good efforts and noble intentions of most of the people involved in the work of rescuing and protecting children. The overwhelming majority of social workers and foster parents do what they do out of sincere love and care for young people. There are dedicated volunteers to defend the rights of children to be free from abuse, and they do great work. But the risks are real and the casualties of our system are substantial.
To try and limit those casualties, attorney as the Bromund Law Group take on the case of PARENTS in juvenile dependency proceedings. Parents are the neglected parties in the juvenile dependency process, often going through the case alone or with very limited appointed legal assistance. Cases always begin with allegations against one or both parents and it is their perspective that is most often dismissed or discounted. Allegations aren’t the same as facts and more than a few times we have found that an allegation deemed credible by a social worker evaporated in the light of examination when we insisted upon facts being produced. Even more importantly, when a family hits a difficult patch (job loss, divorce, chemical dependency), we work constructively with our clients to see that they obtain the support and guidance they need to become the parents their children deserve. It is not easy work. There are no guarantees. But sometimes, with a client who knows how important it is to be there for their children, we prevail.
Just today, I saw a woman reunited with her child after a year of work in the juvenile dependency process. When we started, her case seemed hopeless. Her child’s father had a chemical dependency and had degenerated into being an absolute menace to her and her son. The social worker was convinced that my client’s personal attachment to her son’s father would result in the child being subjected to real risk of abuse. My client’s limited facility with English and non-existent network of family support meant that she was overwhelmed by the process she faced, alone. We stepped in to defend her and her son’s right to be returned to his family. Month after month we built a network of resources around her. Month after month she met with the social worker, took on extra work to afford a safe place to stay, fought every day to put her son’s welfare first and demonstrate the kind of love only a parent can have for a child. Today, because of her hard work and our clear understanding of what was really important in the case, her son comes home. Never again will this family have to go into the dependency court and face the fear of being permanently divided from each other.
If you know someone who needs the kind of patient steady counsel and determined advocacy we provided here, please feel free to have them give us a call. We cannot guarantee results but we can promise you we will use our best judgment and advocacy to make your family whole. Juvenile dependency work is about the most terrifying thing any family can face; don’t face it alone.