VII. D. Standards of Practice for Children in the Custody of the Department

Effective 2/1/87

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VII. D. Standards of Practice for Children in the Custody of the Department

Effective 2/1/87

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1.GENERAL
a.Family Rehabilitation Requirements

Although family rehabilitation work is legally mandated under state law only when the child is committed to the Department pursuant to the Child and Family Services and Child Protection Act (22 MRSA c. 1071) (C1, C2), federal law (the Adoption Assistance and Child Protection Act of l980), and good practice require that efforts to rehabilitate and reunify the family must begin when any child is separated from his parents, unless the parents actions or failure to protect the child from jeopardy reach the statutory standard that rehabilitation efforts need not be commenced.

 

The need for planning and documentation is as urgent from the time the child first enters care as at final commitment to Departmental custody.  Rehabilitation/ reunification work with different types of cases is described below:

 

Cl The caseworker shall continue and/or initiate rehabilitation procedures with the family as outlined in subsection E in an effort to correct the factors causing jeopardy to the child, or he must further substantiate the extent of need for the Department to take permanent custody of the child. Efforts and their results shall be recorded by the worker in the family's record.
C2 When a child has been ordered into the custody of the Department under 22 MRSA Chapter l07l, the Department is mandated to work toward family rehabilitation and reunification unless the parent meets the standards set forth in 22 MRSA §4041(2).
C4 The caseworker shall work with the attorney to correct the technical flaw in the child's commitment and initiate family rehabilitation/reunification procedures or another permanent plan as in the C2 category.
C5 The caseworker shall establish a case plan and initiate rehabilitation procedures when family reunification is feasible, or work toward another permanent plan for the child.
C6The caseworker shall assess the family and initiate rehabilitation/reunification procedures where feasible, or work toward another permanent plan for the child.
C7 The caseworker shall assess the family and initiate rehabilitation/reunification procedures where feasible, or work toward another permanent plan.
C8The caseworker shall cooperate with the other state and attempt to return the child home within the 90 day period allowed by law.
C9 The caseworker shall assess the family and initiate family reunification procedures where feasible or work toward another permanent plan for the child.
VlThe caseworker shall assist the parents in reaching a decision whether to surrender the child for adoption or to resume care of the child as specified in APS #44, Policy on Services Related to Problem Pregnancies.
V2 The caseworker shall assess the family and mutually establish a plan for family reunification.
V8 The caseworker shall assess the family and establish a clear plan for reunification where feasible or some other permanent plan.

 

b.Focus and Priority of Rehabilitation Work
(1)The caseworker shall proceed with a sense of urgency. A child who has been separated from his family and whose permanent placement is still uncertain is highly vulnerable psychologically.  The child's sense of time differs from an adult's and requires an expedited resolution of his situation to reduce the harm inherent in impermanency and uncertainty. The worker shall explain to the family that rehabilitation and reunification goals must be accomplished within a time which is reasonably calculated to meet the child's needs.
(2)The caseworker's efforts will be child-focused. Rehabilitation goals must be realistic, given the condition and circumstances of parents. Within these limitations, however, rehabilitation effort and planning will embody time frames that reflect, not the parents' convenience, but the child's need to have the period of uncertainty in regard to where he will have his permanent home be as short as possible.

The law requires that when a family, within a time reasonably calculated to meet the child's needs, can be rehabilitated so that the parents can and will protect the child from jeopardy, the child shall return to his own family. When, despite documented efforts, rehabilitation does not occur, the worker must proceed with adoption or another permanent plan for the child.

Rehabilitation efforts and planning by the Department and family must be perceived by the worker and explained to the parent as the dual-purposed instrument that it is:

 First, it is the means whereby the Department determines and documents whether a parent is committed to and capable of rehabilitation and family reunification and, if not, documents the child's need for an alternative permanent plan.
 Second, it is the Department's means for accomplishing rehabilitation and family reunification when the parent is committed to and capable of achieving that end.

 

(3)The worker will offer to provide, arrange, or coordinate services and kindly and firmly advise the parents, from the first moment, that lack of rehabilitation on their part could result in the termination of their parental rights. The worker shall explain to the parents that under the law they share responsibility for correcting the problems which prevent the return of the child.  The alternative of the parents' consenting to the termination of their parental rights should be offered as an option for their consideration and discussion. Parents, if appropriate, may prefer this alternative, particularly if the judicial termination of their rights appears likely.
(4)The worker shall follow the time limits for work with parent as outlined under "Procedures", subsection D,3.
(a)Written notice to parents within ten (l0) days of entering custody on:
 a preliminary protection order (C1), and
 a final protection order (C2)

(See Subsection D, 3, a.)

(See sample letters in addendum.)

(b)Meeting with the parents and mutually constructing a case plan within thirty (30) days of commitment, sooner if possible.  (See subsection D, 3, c.)
(c)Review of service agreements and case plan within three (3) months of commitment and every three (3) months thereafter.  (See subsection D, 3, d.)
(d)Final case assessment within one (l) year of commitment. (See subsection D, 3, e.)
(e)Seven (7) days advance notice of planned change of residence.  (See subsection D, 3, f.)

 

(5)If there are both a custodial and a non-custodial parent, the worker shall address the situation of both parents in deciding which option is in the best interest of the child.

 

2.BARRIERS TO RETURNING THE CHILD HOME

A child in foster care is a child who cannot be cared for or who cannot be or has not been protected from jeopardy in his own home.  The first step in permanency planning is to identify why the parents could not care for him or could not protect the child from jeopardy, what current problems prevent reunification, and whether these problems can be rectified within a time frame which is reasonably calculated to meet the child's needs.  These problems can be separated into broad categories:

 

The parent whose whereabouts are unknown;

 

Parents who have abandoned their child: This refers to a parent who has shown an intent to forego parental duties or relinquish parental claims (see definition of Abandonment, 22 MRSA §400l).

 

Parents who are unwilling or unable to protect their child from jeopardy:  This refers to observable behavior of the parent or qualities within the parent which indicate inadequacies in parenting ability and/or prevent adequate nurturing; this may include a parent who has acted toward a child in a manner which is heinous or abhorrent to society or has failed to protect a child in a manner which is heinous or abhorrent to society, without regard to the intent of the parent (22 MRSA §4041(2)(5));

 

Parents who are unwilling or unable to take responsibility for their child:  This refers to observable behaviors, actual statements or other factors or circumstances which indicate the parent does not wish or is not able to be responsible for the child. This may include parents who are willing to consent to the termination of their parental rights;

 

Parents who fail to make a good faith effort to rehabilitate and reunify with the child: This refers to lack of effort, or lack of enough effort, to participate in a reasonable plan designed to correct the problems creating jeopardy.

 

3.PROCEDURES
a.Written Notice to Parents Within Ten Days

As soon as possible, but within ten (l0) days of the date the child entered custody under a preliminary protection order (C1) and/or a final protection order (C2), date the caseworker shall give written notice to the parents by regular mail, addressed to current or last known address:

(1)Introduce himself or another assigned worker as the family caseworker and invite them to work together toward return of child.
(2)Inform them of the child's residence or inform then that it is considered to be detrimental to the best interests of the child for them to know the residence of the child.
(3)Inform them of the specific initial visitation plan or inform them that it is considered to be detrimental to the best interests of the child for them to visit. (See subsection F. Visitation.)
(4)Outline in writing the specific factors which caused the jeopardy and resulting commitment (as related to the results of the court hearings).  A copy of the temporary commitment order may serve as notice of specific factors of jeopardy for children ordered into custody under a preliminary protection order (C1).
(5)When children enter custody on a Preliminary Protection Order, explain to the parents the legal effect of the commitment and their rights and responsibilities.  Explain that failure to resolve the problems which led to the child's commitment could result in custody being given to the department under a final protection order and ultimately termination of their parental rights.
(a)The parents rights are:
i.To make a request in writing that the child be placed in a family of the same general religious faith;
ii.To written notice of any change in the child's residence and any serious injuries, major medical care received or hospitalization unless such notice would be detrimental to the best interests of the child;
iii.Right and responsibility to participate in development and implementation of a rehabilitation and reunification plan which shall include:
a)The reasons for the child's removal;
b)Any changes which must occur for the child to return home;
c)Rehabilitation services which must be completed satisfactorily prior to the return home.
d)Services available to assist the parents in rehabilitating and reunifying with the child, including reasonable transportation within the area in which the child is located for visits if the parents are unable to afford that transportation;
e)A schedule of visits between the child and the parents when visits are not detrimental to the child's best interests, including any special conditions under which the visits shall take place;
f)A reasonable time schedule for proposed reunification which is reasonably calculated to meet the child's needs; and
g)A delineation of the financial responsibilities of the parents and the department during the reunification process;
iv.To periodic review with the Department concerning why the child was removed and what must occur for the child to be returned and the services available to assist them;
v.To ample opportunity to visit with the child unless detrimental to the best interests of the child.
(b)The parents responsibilities are:

Parents are responsible for rectifying and resolving problems which prevent the return of the child to the home and shall take part in a reasonable rehabilitation and reunification plan and shall:

i.Maintain meaningful contact with the child pursuant to the reunification plan.  Parents have the responsibility to visit regularly in a positive, productive manner and also telephone and/or write their child.  If a parent has left the area where the child has been placed, maintaining meaningful contact shall include making arrangements to visit the child at or near his placement; (see subsection F, Visitation, and see Section V, subsection G-3, Transportation)
ii.Seek and utilize appropriate services to assist in rehabilitating and reunifying with the child;
iii.Pay reasonable sums toward the support of the child within the limits of their ability to pay. Instruction for making support payments should be included. (See section XIX Legal Procedures);
iv.Maintain contact with the Department, including prompt written notification to the Department of any change of address;
v.Keep appointments with their caseworker; and
vi.Make good faith effort to cooperate with the Department in developing and pursuing the plan.

 

(6)When a child has been placed in custody under a Final Protection Order, explain to the parents the legal effect of the commitment and their rights and responsibilities.  Explain that failure to resolve the problems which led to the child's commitment could result in custody being given to the department under a final protection order and ultimately termination of their parental rights.
(a)The parents rights are:
i.To appeal the court's decision;
ii.To make a request in writing that the child be placed in a family of the same general religious faith;
iii.To petition the court for a review and amendment of the final protection order;
iv.To written notice of any change in the child's residence and any serious injuries, major medical care received or hospitalization unless such notice would be detrimental to the best interests of the child;
v.Unless the court has issued an order under 22 MRSA §4036(1)(G) that rehabilitation and reunification efforts are not necessary or the department has decided not to commence or to discontinue rehabilitation and reunification efforts pursuant to 22 MRSA §4041(2)(A), the right and responsibility to participate in development and implementation of a rehabilitation and reunification plan which shall include:
a)The reasons for the child's removal;
b)Any changes which must occur for the child to return home;
c)Rehabilitation services which must be completed satisfactorily prior to the return home.
d)Services available to assist the parents in rehabilitating and reunifying with the child, including reasonable transportation within the area in which the child is located for visits if the parents are unable to afford that transportation;
e)A schedule of visits between the child and the parents when visits are not detrimental to the child's best interests, including any special conditions under which the visits shall take place;
f)A reasonable time schedule for proposed reunification which is reasonably calculated to meet the child's needs; and
g)A delineation of the financial responsibilities of the parents and the department during the reunification process;
vi.To periodic review with the Department concerning why the child was removed and what must occur for the child to be returned and the services available to assist them;
vii.To written notice of Department's discontinuation of efforts to return the child to the parent, the specific reasons for the Department's decision, the specific efforts the Department has made in working with the parent;
viii.To ample opportunity to visit with the child unless detrimental to the best interests of the child.

 

(b)The parents responsibilities are:

Parents are responsible for rectifying and resolving problems which prevent the return of the child to the home and shall take part in a reasonable rehabilitation and reunification plan and shall:

i.Maintain meaningful contact with the child pursuant to the reunification plan. Parents have the responsibility to visit regularly in a positive, productive manner and also telephone and/or write their child.  If a parent has left the area where the child has been placed, maintaining meaningful contact shall include making arrangements to visit the child at or near his placement; (see subsection F, Visitation, and see Section V, subsection G-3, Transportation)
ii.Seek and utilize appropriate services to assist in rehabilitating and reunifying with the child;
iii.Pay reasonable sums toward the support of the child within the limits of their ability to pay. Instruction for making support payments should be included. (See section XIX Legal Procedures);
iv.Maintain contact with the Department, including prompt written notification to the Department of any change of address;
v.Keep appointments with their caseworker; and
vi.Make good faith effort to cooperate with the Department in developing and pursuing the plan.

 

(c)Explain that before the court can order a child returned to a parent's custody, the parent shall show that he has carried out his responsibilities under section 4041, subsection 1, paragraph B (outlined above), that, to the court's satisfaction, he has rectified and resolved the problems which caused the removal of the child and any subsequent problems which would interfere with his ability to care for and protect his child from jeopardy and that he can protect the child from jeopardy.

 

b.If the parents' whereabouts are unknown, conduct a diligent search within 30 days.

See subsection E, 2, Determination of Need to Commence or Discontinue Rehabilitation or Reunification Efforts for Parents Whose Whereabouts are Unknown.

c.Within one month (30 days) or sooner of the date of commitment, the worker shall:
(1)Based on information obtained from the family and others as necessary, review and reassess who has legal rights with respect to the child (for purposes of notification, rehabilitation planning and possible termination of parental rights).  The worker should assess all parties claiming rights to determine their rights, interest, commitment, and resource potential.  Focus of rehabilitation work will be determined after the assessment is completed. Rehabilitation work may proceed with more than one party until efforts can be focused on the one having the best potential for rehabilitation.
(2)Meet with the parents, if possible, and assess the factors which caused commitment and determine the willingness/ability of the parent(s) to correct the problems which prevent the return of the child to the home.
(3)Discuss with the parents, if possible, the factors causing commitment and construct an initial service agreement or explain that the court has ordered or the department has decided not to commence or to discontinue family rehabilitation efforts.

22 MRSA §404l, states that the department shall "make good faith efforts to cooperate with the parents in the development and pursuit of the plan" unless the court has issued an order under 22 MRSA §4036 (1)(G-1) that family rehabilitation and reunification efforts are not necessary or the department has decided not to commence or to discontinue rehabilitation and reufniciation efforts. See Subsection E, 5.

 

(4)Unless the parent meets the conditions set forth in 22 MRSA §4041(2) where a family rehabilitation and reunification plan is not required, mutually construct (with the parents) a written service agreement toward the return of the child.  Written service agreements, while not legally binding, help to clarify and document expectations, tasks, roles and responsibilities.  If constructing a service agreement is not realistic (based upon the parent's condition) the worker will clearly document evidence of the condition in the record or move for a court ordered examination (see Section XI, subsection N, Examination by Experts and Motion for Examination).  Based upon the results of the evidence, the worker may proceed with a return home plan, a termination of parental rights petition, or another permanent plan.
(5)Service agreement shall be written; a copy shall be included in the case record and a copy given to the parent(s). See subsection F, Service Agreements.

 

d.Every three months, agreements shall be reviewed by the parents and caseworker, and revised as needed. At each review, the feasibility of family reunification shall be reassessed.
(1)The reassessment shall include the caseworker and parents (if possible). Other Departmental people working with the family or community representatives involved with the family may be invited as appropriate.
(2)The reassessment will concentrate on circumstances of jeopardy to the child's health and welfare, if he were returned home.  The reassessment will reflect the progress made, if any, and the tasks yet to be accomplished.
(3)The caseworker will update the case record and record the case plan in the child's record, document the basis for decisions, discuss the plan with the parents if they were not present at the reassessment and send them a letter outlining the revised plan.
(4)The caseworker will ask the parents to sign the revised service agreement plan if they agree and/or will send them the plan with an added statement reflecting their lack of agreement, if such is the case.  The letter shall include a statement that if the parents refuse to work toward rehabilitation services will be discontinued, but the caseworker will be available if the family wishes to resume rehabilitation work.
(5)When the factors causing jeopardy are corrected the child may be returned home.

 

e.At the end of one year of concentrated, time-limited, goal-oriented casework, a decision regarding the feasibility of reunification shall be made if a permanent plan has not already been implemented.
(1)If it appears that the family has been rehabilitated and can and will protect the child from jeopardy to his health and welfare, the caseworker will petition for judicial review and return of custody of the child to his parents at the earliest possible time. If return home is unsuccessful and the child comes back into foster care, a decision shall be made whether to continue rehabilitation work or make another permanent plan.
(2)If, on documentation in the record, it is determined that either parent cannot or will not protect the child from jeopardy to his health or welfare within a time reasonably calculated to meet the needs of the child, the department may discontinue provision of services to that parent, and shall decide on another permanent plan.
(3)If a child cannot be reunited with his parents, the caseworker shall determine whether there are members of the extended family who are willing and able to protect the child from jeopardy to his health and welfare and to assume custody or adopt the child.  If such a plan is in the best interests of the child it will be pursued.
(4)If the child cannot go home, and adoption is the plan, the caseworker will discuss voluntary consent of the parents to the termination of their parental rights. Consent to termination should be considered as a regular option for parents when adoption is the case plan.

 

f.Other Notice Requirements
(1)If the child entered the custody of the Department by surrender and release of parental rights in probate court, or if termination of parental rights has occurred, the parents have no further rights to notice regarding the child.
(2)As long as the child has not been surrendered and released (V5) or his parent's rights have not been terminated, and the child continues in the custody of the Department, and if such is not detrimental to the best interests of the child, the following requirements exist:
(a)A schedule of visits between the child and the parents, including any special conditions under which the visits shall take place;
(b)Notice of the child's residence and, when practicable, at least 7 days' advance written notice of a planned change of residence; and
(c)Notice of any serious injuries, major medical care received or hospitalization of the child.

 

g.Documentation:  All casework shall be clearly recorded according to case recording policy, Section XIII, subsection A. This is of the utmost importance as the documented facts used to decide if a child can be safely returned home are the same facts used in court to terminate parental rights.