Parents Outgunned in Child Welfare Cases
There’s a fascinating program in Michigan, the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, that aims to prevent children from being removed by the Department of Health and Human Services (foster care). DCFA prevents children ending up in foster care in nearly 90% of its cases by offering parents targeted legal help and social work that costs a fraction of what taxpayers spend on foster care. This thorough article covers the problem with compassion and facts.
In Michigan, “Judges initially give CPS permission to remove kids from their homes if the agency has “probable cause,” the same amount of evidence a police officer needs to search someone’s car during a traffic stop.
After that is a hearing to determine if the state has proven the family’s problems meet the standards for the court to take control over the children and order DHHS to provide services to the family. At this hearing, the state must prove its case by a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning most of the evidence suggests the allegations against parents are true.
That hearing is the only time parents are entitled to a jury. Most parents waive that right and plead guilty, often advised by their attorneys to do so because court jurisdiction makes them eligible for services.
But the fight is often over then, because “once the court has jurisdiction, it has a frightening amount of power over these families,” said Tracy Green, DCFA legal director and a former DHHS foster care worker.
The majority of petitions to terminate parental rights — granted by judges alone if the prosecution gives them “a firm belief or conviction” that the allegations are true — are filed because parents fail to comply or benefit from the services DHHS provides. It’s like getting probation after a trial and then having a judge sentence you to death for a probation violation.”