In this article, we discuss the rights of Illinois parents whose children have been removed by the court and cover the following topics:
Parents of children who have been removed by the court often find themselves unsure of what rights they have and the best way to proceed. The agencies handling these cases are often strained by large caseloads, poor funding, and limited staff. Unless the parents have the appropriate income or resources to hire an experienced family law attorney they can be left to navigate a complex litigation system on their own.
The two primary factors determining what a parent whose child has been removed should do next is 1) Do they want reunification with the child?; and 2) Have they been convicted of criminal activity resulting in incarceration? Parents who are incarcerated generally have the same rights as those not in jail regarding their potential reunification, including visitation to a limited extent, unless they had their parental rights stripped in a previous hearing. These rights include 1) rights to services to improve the likelihood of reunification, 2) rights to obtain services to improve the likelihood of reunification 3) visitation rights unless no visitation has been ordered by the court.
No families are eligible for every service available under the child welfare system. Depending on the specific case and the child and parents/guardians needs, different services will be appropriate. In order to identify the right services, the Illinois Integrated Assessment Program was created. This program includes a number of different professional specialties aimed at helping families involved in the Illinois child welfare system. It is typically the job of the attorney for the parent to make sure his or her clients have a written service plan including all options and referrals to social services aimed at reunification. It is also the attorney’s job to inquire as to the level of experience of any social worker or agency involved in their client’s case, especially if the parent is mentally ill or developmentally delayed.
All the individuals involved in creating a service plan for a family will generate a detailed report called an “integrated assessment.” This report is given to all the parties involved prior to the court family conference. This assessment is referenced often when making decisions in child custody and parental rights cases. However, not all cases will have an integrated assessment present at the court family conference. This could be for many reasons including the parent not getting the appropriate guidance due to an encumbered system, but more commonly it is because the parent attempting reunification or some degree of parental rights does not want the potential negative prognosis associated with the report. This is especially true for parents who have been incarcerated.
The attorney for the parent should work to address any issues that may arise with specific types of services suggested for the parent in the service plan. The attorney can request the caseworker “staff” the case, which allows the attorney and his or her client to be present when the services suggested in the service plan are reviewed. If there is a failure in the services or a failure to provide the services the attorney can file a motion asking that DCFS be ordered to provide the appropriate services. This motion also extends to the attorney seeking a finding that reasonable efforts at reunification failed
The attorney can also request that the court send the case to mediation and facilitation. Mediation and facilitation are not available in every Illinois county, but when available they are great resources prior to adjudication that help all parties involved in a case establish ground rules for communication, visitation, services, and a bevy of other case-related issues. This can be especially important for parents in custody or pending criminal charges.
The type of service suggested for a parent in a child welfare case depends on the issue that the parent presents with and what insights may be found on the integrated assessment. Below are some examples of services that may be suggested based on parenting issues involved in the case:
In Illinois, visitation rights for parents have a set minimum of once per week for all temporary custody cases and when the goal is the reunification of the child with the parents. The attorney for the parent should be especially vigilant in working with the parent on ensuring appropriate visitation, striving for as much parent-child visitation as possible. The attorney should encourage regular visitation by the parent, and should keep a log of all contact with the caseworker, services attended by the parent, and visitation times between the parent and child. The first visit should take place within two weeks of the child being moved to temporary custody. Elements of the parent-child visitation such as supervised versus unsupervised should be based on what is in the best interest of the child. The attorney of the parent will, in most cases, strive for unsupervised visits at the caseworker’s discretion when the child and parent are deemed ready.
If you have any questions about your rights as a parent whose child has been removed please give us a call at 630-324-6666.
O'Flaherty Law is happy to meet with you by phone or at our office locations in: