WHAT IS A DEPENDENCY CASE?
A "dependency" case is civil, not criminal. In most cases, there is no criminal consequence or jailing that will occur as a result of your actions on this case. That is the rule. There are exceptions, it is more likely a judge will have negative feelings about reuniting you with your children, than s/he will jail you for failing to follow court orders.
That is the GOAL of your case: to get your children home and the case dismissed, so that you can parent your children to maturity without continuing interference from state social workers.
A DEPENDENCY CASE IS ALL ABOUT THE CHILDREN.
The case is called "In Re the Dependency of ...your child's name." The social welfare agencies and the Courts are interested in you/ the parents only because if you solve your problems the children will be safe. Do not forget that the primary concern of the court is "the best interest of the child."
The child welfare agencies are statutorily required to work toward returning your children home to you: that is the preferred plan of the States and the Courts. But you have to work on that return too! If you have drug or alcohol problems, it will be hard for the Court to return your kids to you if you wait for 6 months to get a urinalysis done. If you don't visit your kids, if you are in prison, or if you are in an abusive relationship with a domestic partner the State will not return your kids.
HOW TO WORK WITH YOUR LAWYER TO GET THE BEST OUTCOME
I recommend that my clients have a spiral notebook from the start, and write down every important thing that happens to them in their dependency case. Before they write down anything else, I ask them to go home and write down their case "story." A case story is, how this case started in your own words. If you have problems reading, you will want to keep these notes in a recorded format.
Make sure that your lawyer is treating you more like a customer than like an employee. You can do this by providing her a list of what you want in writing. I highly recommend that you break that area up into a few categories like: what I want immediately; what I want by the end of the month; and what I want next year. The immediate list might include things like: I want my urinalyses tests reduced from twice a week to once a week. Long-term goals might include-- by this time next year, I want: 1) all three of my kids home; and 2) the dependency case dismissed.
This spiral notebook journal is very important to keep for other reasons too: to keep an accurate case record of wrongs that need righting. This journal is the best record for instance of how often the child welfare system has screwed up your visits. Write down in your journal every time your children arrive late to visits, leave early, or never even appear. Then, call your lawyer and let them know each time!
Be ready for your first interview with your lawyer. I can't tell you how many times I've met a client and they had no papers with them. Take every single sheet of paper that you think is important to your child's case when you see your lawyer for the first time. That includes: any documents you have from the dependency case, including the petition and any orders. Take with you: the names/phone/e-mail addresses of any witnesses that you hope to call in your defense. Take any documents that show that your kids were doing well in your care: good report cards or med. records that show their shots are up to date.
The types of witnesses that are good for your side are: teachers, any type of professional that has regular contact with your family and knows you are doing well, and perhaps the leaders of your spiritual community. The number one best witness that you can tell your lawyer about is: the witness who says the State has their facts all wrong!
Lawyers have many clients and are involved in more cases than yours. Here are tips to keep in mind so that your lawyer keeps your case at the top of the list and not at the bottom. 1) Come to every meeting prepared. Have notes written about what you want to accomplish at the meeting. 2) Respect your lawyer's time! Always appear on time or slightly early to a meeting. Never no-show without calling. 3) Establish regular correspondence with your lawyer. Keep your lawyer in the loop.
Almost all lawyers now are easier to reach by e-mail than by regular mail or phone. Even if you don't have e-mail now, establish an e-mail address, even if that means setting it up at the local library, Kinko's or internet cafe. THEN establish a day during the week when you are going to e-mail your lawyer, updating them with everything you have been doing to get your kids back.
Also remember: the squeaky wheel gets the grease but a too, too squeaky wheel often gets traded in for a new wheel. Meaning to say... all lawyers are over-worked. Once a week is enough of an update on your case unless an emergency arises. You want to inform your lawyer about your case, but your lawyer is not your therapist. Keep in mind: if your lawyer is busy responding to your 20 phone calls a day, she is not working on getting your children home, writing the motions and reports that get that done.
Anytime anything of importance happens on your case, even if it is bad, make sure you tell your lawyer. Even better: make sure you tell them in writing, so that they can't say they didn't know that information.
Most dependency lawyers know how to get your kids back. You need to give them a chance to do that. The number one way to get your kids back is to either fight the facts or to follow your court ordered conditions.
BY ALL MEANS FIGHT, IF THAT IS WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE!
Go to trial. Dispute dependency. Object. Call witnesses. Have your lawyers brief the issues. ....But once the trial is over, if you lose, the court order is the law of your family until the case is closed. If you are unable to convince a judge at trial that your children should not be considered dependent: the time for fighting the system is over, and the time for fighting to get through your court ordered services has just begun. In my experience, people who get their children returned from foster care go above and beyond to complete their court ordered services as soon as possible and more. They find services that have not been court ordered and fill their lives with services that will better their children's lives and their own. If the most important thing in your life is getting your children back, you may need to put the rest of your life on hold. During this time, your job is to wake up in the morning and figure out: what can I do TODAY to get my kids back?
No matter what, attitude gets your nowhere in the dependency system. When you are under the microscope, and professional social workers are watching your every move to make sure that you can be a good parent and have your children returned to you without risk of harm, over-the-top displays of anger do you no good. Actually, they can only: get you referred to additional services (like anger management or domestic violence classes) or delay your children from coming home.
Believe it or not, I once saw a client of mine throw a cup of hot coffee at a social worker! This is the kind of thing a person does when they don't know how much power a State social worker has over whether your children ever come home!
I AM A LONG-TERM DRUG ADDICT (OR ALCOHOLIC.) CAN I GET MY CHILDREN BACK?
Yes. You can. I know how to help you do it, and if you don't believe me, call my office and I will put you in touch with long-term drug addicts who have their children now due to my diligent legal work and their own hard work on their whole lives. I know how to help you get your kids back, but you must be willing to admit your own problems, and then work on you harder than you've worked on anything in your life.
Many parents lose their children because they fail an unwritten attitude test. Don't let that be you. Realize that many people are watching every little thing you do. During your case, treat all people, even the very social worker who may have driven your kids to foster care, with respect. And know for certain that if you tell your social worker where to jump off, that will make it into their next court report. That is not the image that you want the judge to have when she is deciding whether your children should go home. Ultimately, the judge (and not the social worker) has final say on when it is time for your kids to go home. You want him/her to know who you are, and not to be effected by any bad relationships that you have established with the social worker, the CASA or any other professional on the case. Although this shouldn't be a personality contest, it doesn't hurt to have a good relationship with the professionals. If the professionals like you, they are more likely to cut you some slack when they write reports on your less than stellar moments.
1) Do your services; 2) keep your attitude warm, or at least professional; 3) get your kids home as soon as possible. They need you.
NOTE: THIS TREATISE HAS BEEN POSTED AS A GENERAL PUBLIC SERVICE TO AVVO'S READERSHIP. REVIEWING THIS TREATISE IS NOT TO BE INTERPRETED AS HAVING RETAINED NICOLE B. CHAFETZ OR ANY LAWYER AT HER FIRM, NOR CREATING AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP WITH HER OFFICE. MS. CHAFETZ IS A VERY AGGRESSIVE ATTORNEY REGARDING GETTING PARENTS THEIR CHILDREN BACK FROM FOSTER CARE. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO RETAIN HER, PLEASE DROP AN E-MAIL TO HER AT [email protected]. MS. CHAFETZ ALSO REPRESENTS CHILDREN AND OTHER RELATIVES IN THE WASHINGTON STATE DEPENDENCY SYSTEM; AND PARENTS SEEKING CUSTODY OF THEIR CHILDREN THROUGH FAMILY LAW COURT/ DISSOLUTION CASES/ AND MODIFICATIONS.