Good morning, everyone. To touch on a bit of a strong comment I received over the weekend, no, I am not attempting to slam the Department of Children’s Services with these posts. I am not attempting to denigrate the well-meaning, hard-working individuals who are truly there to protect the children of this state from abuse. What I would like people to see from these posts is the Department is a government entity, much like law enforcement, with powers similar to law enforcement, that does not require many constitutional safeguards for those it investigates and contains far more authority over the lives of those whom they “help.”
Onward and upward.
The first magistrate I ever worked a case with had a saying that I still remember regarding the function and purpose of the Juvenile Court system in Tennessee: “We’re here because something went wrong with the parents, and we are here to help the parents so they can better parent their children. No one in this room is out to “get” anybody. There are only friends in this room who want to help each and every parent that walks into this court.”
I wished I still believed that. The attorneys may be there to help, and the magistrate or juvenile judge who oversees the case may be there to help in the sense you and I understand, but the Department’s definition of “help” is completely different.
Let’s talk about the “helpful” meetings DCS holds in juvenile cases. They split into two categories: Permanency Plan meetings and Child and Family Team Meetings (CFTMs). The first, in the Department’s eyes, is their method of “goal setting” after you’ve had a “problem” they need to see “fixed”. The second are essentially formalized interrogations, where your shortcomings are discussed, and everything short of horse-whipping is attempted to get parents in the system on the perceived right track.
Permanency Plans are required by statute. T.C.A. 37-2-403, in the section marked “Placement of Juveniles” and designated as the “Foster Care” part, states the Department is required to prepare a plan for each child in foster care within thirty (30) days of placement. The goals are as follows:
1. Return of the child to parent.
2. Permanent placement with a fit and willing relative or relatives of the child.
4. Permanent Guardianship.
5. A planned permanent living arrangement.
T.C.A. 37-2-403(a)(1). According to the statute, each permanency plan shall include “a statement of responsibilities between the parents, the agency, and the caseworker of such agency. Such statements shall include the responsibilities in specific terms and shall be reasonably related to the achievement of the goal specified in subdivision (a)(1).” Id. at (a)(2)(A). These goals are “subject to modification and shall be re-evaluated at least annually” Id. at (a)(1)(B). “Substantial noncompliance by the parent with the statement of responsibilities provides grounds for the termination of parental rights.” Id. at (a)(2)(C) (emphasis added).
This is the legalese. Let’s break down how this actually happens. If you have to complete a permanency plan, the Department summons you to a meeting within thirty days of taking your children. They sit you in a conference room surrounded by attorneys, case workers, a case manager, and a “facilitator”–someone tasked with asking questions in an uncomfortable environment and making sure no one leaves the table until the job is done. After introductions, you are asked to talk about your strengths and weaknesses as a parent. You are encouraged to be honest and forthcoming about every bit of your problems, as the DCS workers present are there to “help.” In this environment, surrounded by all manner of professionals, you are encouraged to treat this as your “confessional.”
Once the confession is finished, the Department sets goals for your plan. You may be required to complete a battery of tests, including (but never limited to) a Drug and Alcohol Assessment, a Parenting Assessment, and a Mental Health Assessment. In addition to completing these tests, you will be required to “follow all recommendations.” These tasks will be given a time frame–usually sixty to ninety days. You are expected to comply with these requirements in the time frame, or you will be given a chastising at subsequent meetings and asked what it will take to help you complete these requirements. Of course, you can’t be forced into jail for non-completion; the Department only has the “substantial noncompliance” provision hanging over your head if you fail to jump through their hoops. That failure allows them to declare you a Bad Parent for life, and have your children taken from you permanently.
At the end of the Permanency Plan meeting, you’ll be asked to sign the document. This is so the Department’s representatives can say you agreed to these goals if the issue arises in Court. You will also be provided with a copy of the Department’s forms for the Criteria and Procedures for Termination of Parental Rights, which outlines all the ways your children can be taken from you. Take note on the permanency plan where you are to pay $10.00 per month per child in “child support” to the State. You MUST pay this amount, and pay it faithfully, or else it will be used against you for the purposes of taking your children. Ruminate on this for a moment–the Department takes your children, and then makes you pay them for the privilege of taking your children. If you fail to pay their “child support,” the Department will use that as grounds for taking your children forever.
If you slip up or if an issue arises during an investigation, you will be subjected to a Child and Family Team Meeting, or CFTM. Again, the Department’s representatives usher you into a conference room, and promise you everything in the room being said (and typed into a computer by a DCS Case Worker or Manager) is confidential. Then they will proceed to discuss the nature of the issues, ranging from evidence collected against you to allegations that need “further inquiry.” Unlike police interrogations, the Department does not tell you that anything you say in these meetings can and will be used against you in a court of law. If you decide to stop talking at any point, or end the meeting prior to when the Department’s workers say the meeting is over, this will be noted in your file on their Electronic Plantation and used against you. The CFTM is the DCS method of interrogation, except the steel baton used to beat you is wrapped in a soft velvet layer of paperwork and touchy-feely psychobabble.
Let’s review. DCS is a governmental agency, just like Law Enforcement. DCS has investigative powers, just like law enforcement. DCS has to follow CERTAIN constitutional safeguards. DCS can essentially detain you for their “meetings” and use your willful right to leave as evidence of your non-cooperation in court later. DCS is staffed with people who are not as trained as law enforcement in constitutional safeguards and at times will ignore the rights afforded us by the Constitution in order to make sure they accomplish their goals “for the children.” UNLIKE law enforcement, DCS has the ability to make you comply with their wishes, and failure to do so will cost you your children.
Who do we need to fear more here? And are you scared yet? If not, the next posts will horrify you.
Don’t deal with DCS alone. Run. Call an attorney.