Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Same here in PA

DCF can and does seize kids and remove them from their homes. Sometimes that is justified, but often it is not.
Parents then work to get their kids back by participating in DCF- and court-mandated services. However, DCF can still file to terminate parental rights and free the kids for adoption.
This is, in effect, a parental death sentence.
Parents should be aware that in juvenile court cases:
• You have no right to a jury trial.
• You have no right to a public trial.
• You have no right to receive exculpatory information from DCF, despite DCF “policy” to that effect.
• You technically have the right to refuse to speak to DCF; but if you do refuse, that fact can and will be used against you.
• DCF is supposed to advise parents, with a “Right to Know” brochure, that they can speak to a lawyer before speaking to DCF. Yet DCF often skirts this by not providing the brochure until the initial interview is over, and the courts allow it.
• You have no benefit of the presumption of innocence, with the requirement of being found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You must prove that your kids are safe, despite DCF’s technically having a (quite low) burden of proof.
• You may request, but seldom will be allowed, to call the kids themselves as witnesses, even if they are old enough to refute the DCF allegations.
• You may lose your kids, even if you are innocent, and believe in your partner’s innocence, simply because you did not throw the accused partner out of the house fast enough.
It is fair to say that many (not all) judges err on the side of caution, lest they be criticized for harm that could possibly occur to a child if returned to the parents.
In a recent case decided by the Connecticut Supreme Court (In re Gabriella A., 319 C 775 (2015)), the court upheld the termination of the mother’s parental rights. It is worth reading the courageous dissent by Justices Richard Robinson and Peter Zarella, who pointed out that the mother, despite her problems, was really given no meaningful chance to rehabilitate and be able to parent her child.
It is virtually impossible to pass legislation to strengthen family integrity. Legislators do not want to be stigmatized as being “soft on child abuse.” Neither do I. But having seen DCF abuses for over two decades, I know that the balance must shift from almost total DCF power to providing meaningful rights for parents. Yet the state legislature will not act without pressure from parents, who are often an invisible group.

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