We’ve heard a lot lately about how broken our child protection system is in the country. There are horrible stories about kids suffering—or dying—because they remain in dangerous homes. What’s really going on in child protection cases?
I’ve worked as a lawyer in child protection cases in Minnesota for years. Here’s what’s happening in my state:
- The law says that if a child has been removed from a dangerous home, reunification of the family is the goal. Each parent and the children over ten have the right to a lawyer. Poor people get the services of Public Defenders. The child protection social workers have their own lawyer, the county attorney prosecutors. And the kids can also have a Guardian ad Litem appointed to watch out for their best interests.
- In child protection cases, the parents are offered a case plan to correct the problems that led to the kids being removed. If the parents can complete their case plans, reunification can occur. Here are typical goals in a case plan:
- Chemical health treatment
- Mental health treatment and psychological evaluations
- Parenting education classes
- Help finding housing
- Anger management counseling
- Therapy for individuals and families
- Parents are given time (6+ months) to accomplish and finish the case plan. During this period, visits between the parents and the children occur and may increase along with the parent’s progress on their case plans. If parents complete the case plan, reunification can occur—usually in a highly monitored situation. It’s called a trial home visit but is 24/7. Services for the parents and supervision of the home continue in order to assure the children are safe. Hopefully, parents have changed their behavior.
There’s a lot of fear and misinformation out there about child protection cases. In many states, the court proceedings are open to the public. You may want to observe some cases if you’re interested. An even greater need is for volunteers to become Guardians ad Litems. In Minnesota, they received over 40 hours of training and continued support as they work with children to make sure the best interests of those kids in the system are being met. It’s a critical and important job that needs more qualified people.
This is a real chance to help children and their families!