Presentation on theme: "In Benton and Franklin Counties, referrals made to Child Protective Services found to warrant intervention and removal of children from the home have their."— Presentation transcript:
In Benton and Franklin Counties, referrals made to Child Protective Services found to warrant intervention and removal of children from the home have their cases heard in dependency court. Located at the Juvenile Justice Center, hearings involve many participants in determining the fate of the children and families who find themselves within its halls. Child Protective Services, Child Welfare Services, Prosecuting Attorneys, attorneys for parents and children, Guardian Ad Litems, and Commissioners. The ultimate directive is to reunite families by identifying issues, recommending appropriate services, and discerning whether parents’ efforts and commitment to change will ultimately make it safe for their children to return home. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In these instances, the recommendations and information provided to commissioners may require a new home for the children and termination of parental rights. A relative is the next best, but sometimes long-term foster care and adoption become safer for children.
A role that has a broad focus in dependency court is the Superior Court Commissioners who is appointed by the six elected Superior Court judges with the following defined role: “Commissioner -- Most courts employ court commissioners to ease the judges' caseload. Court commissioners are usually attorneys licensed to practice in Washington. Working under the direction of a judge, court commissioners assume many of the same powers and duties of a superior court judge. Matters heard by the court commissioner include probate, uncontested marriage dissolutions, the signing of court orders for uncontested matters, and other judicial duties as required by the judge. The state constitution limits each county to no more than three court commissioners, but additional commissioners may be appointed for family law and mental health matters.” http://www.courts.wa.gov/newsinfo/resources/?fa=newsinfo_jury.display&altMenu=Citi&fol derID=jury_guide&fileID=superior Commissioners may not preside over jury trials. One of the subjects of this presentation, Commissioner Joseph R. Schneider, presides over domestic and juvenile courts along with dependency court which is the focus of his interview
Licensed to practice law in the State of Washington since 1976, Joseph R. Schneider was appointed as commissioner in October 2000 after serving as special counsel and legal review for the district court in Prosser. Currently, he rotates with the other Superior Court commissioners and presides over domestic, juvenile, and dependency court issues. Whereas other roles impacting family violence and child abuse/maltreatment serve as prevention, intervention, or support, Commissioner Schneider’s role is reviewing and interpreting information to enact the directives of the law. The information he receives from all parties concerning the welfare of the children in dependency determines the fate of children and families. He notes that social workers providing unbiased, accurate, descriptive data in the cases is a critical tool in his review process.
Commissioner Schneider feels he communicates and incorporates his desire to give children and voice and have access to a safe environment along with educating parents concerning the impact of their choices. He feels domestic violence has the same effect whether he is hearing divorce cases, juvenile criminal cases that sometimes involve abuse on parents, or dependency determinations. The question is always how to protect kids and victims and where prevention can best be utilized to change cycles of violence. He noted his experience has shown education has a sensitive time frame in which to be effective for the victim to realize change is needed for his/her and the children to have a chance at maintaining separation from the perpetrator. Unfortunately, he indicated this window of opportunity often passes and victims return because of contact with the perpetrator, finances, drugs, or personal dynamics of the individual and relationship behavioral patterns. His most effective method of dealing with those who want to drop or not pursue charges was to encourage the victim to seek shelter and resources away from the perpetrator. If that failed, he let them know he was placing a call to CPS to have the children removed. He found that in most cases, mothers would choose their children over the man.
The discussion about victims and the cycle of abuse revealed additional information concerning when help is normally sought, how measures available in law enforcement are used, and the nature of domestic violence from Commissioner Schneider’s perspective. As mentioned before, he indicated preventative education has minimal effect for those caught in the cycle until the abuse has reached a breaking point. By the time he sees children in dependency court, his experience has taught him abuse, maltreatment, and neglect trends indicate histories of abuse and neglect within families with police contact the normal first point of intervention for a family. In terms of rates of domestic violence and child abuse and neglect, he hasn’t seen an increase; however, they aren’t decreasing either. He felt the causes of family violence were a combination of issues and stressors ranging from mental illness, substance abuse, family history, poverty, lack of parenting education, or plain ignorance of how to communicate and have healthy relationships. Certain personality types also play a role in domestic violence where the need for control and power exist.
We discussed education as a means of prevention for some of the identified issues relating to abuse and maltreatment. As he mentioned before, for someone caught in the cycle of abuse where this has become their norm and/or their resources are limited, education tends to be ineffective unless the situation has gotten to a breaking point where it is evident his/her personal safety is critically at risk or the children are being removed. He mentioned a swing in law enforcement response when victims obtain temporary restraining orders as compared to orders of protection. For a period of time, law enforcement wouldn’t enforce restraining orders. Judges and law enforcement worked together to overcome legal obstacles and consequently, restraining orders began to be enforced. However, he has seen a shift back towards this approach with law enforcement placing greater response to protection orders rather than temporary restraining orders. An interesting note he added was concerning how victims respond to some of the protective measures such as restraining orders and protection orders. They fail to understand the orders are in place even if the victim invites the person restricted by the order or even rides in a car. He sees this when parents try to visit. He also mentioned how victims named in the order can be charged with aiding and abetting violations if they are found in a car during a traffic stop.
Where Commissioner Schneider felt education could be best served were: Schools to educate children about abuse and neglect and where they can go for help (he mentioned this can only be partially effective because the child still has to go home which can open all kinds of problems if the child tries to pass along their education). Parenting education in conjunction with birth classes. He felt many parents just didn’t know right and wrong behaviors with their children or have learned the tools to cope with stresses in parenting. For some parents, it was how they were raised. At the moment of intervention was one he mentioned as critical to education. The delay of service application and availability of services hinders this process when striking while the iron is hot has greater impact than waiting weeks or months when the victim is most likely to be lulled back into the situation or relationship. Counseling services Providing the victim with access to support groups Treatment for substance abuse Subsequent treatment for mental health issues Shelter Support Legal support All of these he see’s as being a part of the immediate intervention and long-term prevention measures. Pairing birth classes with parenting classes seems like a good pairing in terms of prevention options.
Concerning the children who come into dependency court, Commissioner Schneider mentioned parenting issues revolving around drug and alcohol use but mental health issues are predominant as well. He noted a recommendation for social workers and Guardian ad Litems to stop advocating for psychiatric evaluations as a beginning point when substance abuse was present. He felt until treatment took place and it could be clearly demonstrated mental health issues were present, having a psyche evaluation was expensive and ineffective in further service and treatment goals. Also interesting was his note that 70% of alcoholics don’t require intensive inpatient treatment and can do very well with environmental changes and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Concerning mental health in conjunction with juvenile court, Commissioner Schneider felt our community lost a valuable resource when the Lourdes adolescent mental health facility left. He sees kids become hospitalized, receive 90 days of medical coupons, act out and re-enter the system only to repeat the cycle because alternatives are non-existent.
The morning I spent in dependency court before meeting with him gave me some insight to his day. It was a docket of legal filings, continuations, reviews, and hearings from children and parents alike. That morning, here’s what I witnessed: Docket 1: Determined termination of parental rights would proceed without an appeal expected and movement forward with adoption proceedings. This child had been placed in a home with siblings. Docket 2: 2 nd pretermination review with situation status quo. Mother has defaulted on obligations to court. Child is in foster care. Docket 3 & 4: A predetermination hearing for two boys with mother present. Father’s parental rights have already been terminated. Another hearing was scheduled for June with continuing dialogue concerning mother’s progress. Docket 5: A contempt hearing with a discontinuation of a show cause proceeding. Docket 6, 7, 8, & 9: 2 boys with mother present. Dependency has been in existence for over two and a half years since boys were re-entered into dependency. The boys are in foster care. They have been looking for a suitable relative to place the children but have yet determine one. The boys want to return home to the mother. She has ongoing substance abuse and mental health issues requiring medication for stabilization. You get a sense of how the boys relate to their experience in the words of one of the boys when he said, “My mom hasn’t always done good, but she hasn’t always done bad either.”
The last item on the morning’s docket involved participation from the children to find out how things are going with them and answer any questions they may have. Commissioner Schneider’s interaction with them was patient but clear about why the boys couldn’t return home or live with a different relative at this time. He mentioned in our interview, a pilot program was finishing that allowed judges and commissioners in dependency hearings to meet with the children separately to get their input. He mentioned he felt this gave children a forum to speak outside of the intimidation of being in a court setting surrounded by strangers. He emphasized how crucial it is to give children a voice during this process. The interview with Commissioner Schneider was fascinating, and I could have taken his whole afternoon discussing families, children, and policy response within the system. But, as he noted, his days are filled to overflowing and is the least desirable aspect of his job. After a full morning docket, he had an afternoon just as busy. The reality for the commissioners are lengthy days appearing in court, reading case files and notes, and trying to have a personal life in the midst of an over capacitated system. What makes this enjoyable for him is his involvement in removing children from unsafe environments. The last slide provides the dependency timeline for children with an attachment you can print out that provides more detail.
CPS Referral 72 Hr Max CPS Child Pick-Up Shelter Care Hearing Continued Shelter Care Order 30 days Fact Finding 75 days Disposition 1 st Dependency Review 14 Days 6 Months Dependency Review @ Least Every 6 mos. Permanency Planning Hearing 12 mos. Commissioner Schneider mentioned he wished parents would engage in services immediately. The sooner they can potential reunite with their children, the better it is for them since referrals for services can create delays. More details about each stage of the process can be downloaded from: http://www.dshs.wa.gov/pdf/ca/deptimeln.pdf