Level 1 - The Back-Up Plan... You think the Parents are doing what they're supposed to do. Or at least you don't think the situation is as dire as DHR or Child Services or some other Caring Relative who is operating at one of the different levels we'll discuss next might believe. Your position and maybe even your testimony would be something like, "I think the kids are fine, but if this Court disagrees then my place is sure better than Foster Care."
It is no small gesture to even just offer yourself and your household as a resource for the family courts. Allowing the Court to see that the Parent or Parents you support have friends and family that love and support them and who believe they're doing the right things will be valuable for the Court to consider. Level 2 - Holding Down the Fort... At Level 2, things are a little more serious. You love and care for the Parents, but in spite of that or perhaps because of it, you are honest with the Parent and the Court that something has to be done, at least temporarily. Maybe it's not even something nefarious, maybe a Parent is suffering through an illness or a course of treatment for an injury that impedes their ability to care for a child on a day-to-day basis but everyone is on the same page that the Parent getting custody back is the game plan.
Even if there have been poor decisions by a Parent or Parents, quite often those issues can be resolved in a reasonable amount of time if the Parent wants to put in the effort and receives the love, support and resources they need.
In any case, you know that the Parent needs to raise this child in the long term, and you're not trying to start over after finally getting your empty nest back, so to speak. Level 3 - The Line in the Sand... This is the saddest level at which to operate, but it's also the most important. Maybe a Parent just can't kick the habit. Or you've been at Level 2 off and on for a few years and at some point it's just not fair to the child. Now, you've made the decision that the best thing for this child is to be permanently placed with you and the Parent(s) should simply have visitation on such a schedule and subject to such conditions as you or the Court see fit.
There is no hard and fast rule about how many "chances" a parent should get or what kind of situation warrants a "one and done" kind of mentality, but we find that observing what someone's principles and priorities are, based on their behavior not their words, will go a long way towards giving you the insight you need to get clear on your position. You can also ask yourself a question like "if they were clean for 6 months, would I feel okay sending Junior home? a year?"
If you don't feel like you'll ever really have peace about it, don't be afraid to make your position clear and let the Court make the ultimate decision if need be. You can operate at Level 3 and still be polite, respectful and loving to the Parents involved. How they respond to you is their business.
You get what you tolerate in this life, and in certain circumstances, drawing the line in the sand is the only thing that can provide a child the support and stability they deserve. What Level Are You On? This is not a decision to make lightly, but the good news is that Child Custody is an ever-evolving situation. The decision to make here is more about the day-to-day decisions and legal strategy you'll need to pursue based on the circumstances rather than some lifelong decision you and the child are absolutely stuck with.
If a family member is dealing with DHR or CPS or you would like to do something yourself for a child in need, PLEASE contact a qualified, experienced Child Custody lawyer. This is too important of a process to try to undertake yourself, especially in DHR cases.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for your heart and your courage to step up and serve your family and the needs of a child. We wish you and yours all the best.