Oct 052015
 

by Clay Herrmann

This is the second installment of our report of what transpired at the October 1, 2015 “Joint Performance Review Committee” of the Arkansas Legislature. The Joint Committee is comprised of thirty State Senators and Representatives. Senator Alan Clark is Chairman on the Senate side and Representative Kim Hammer is Chairman on the House side.

In this video Hal Stanley gives his testimony about the nightmarish drama his family has endured … beginning January 12, 2015 and that still continues without so much as an apology from DHS, The Arkansas State Police, or the Garland County Sheriff’s Department.

A number of high level DHS officials concerned about possible consequences of this meeting were in attendance, along with numerous concerned citizens and members of the press.

How Many Ways To Lose Your Kids To DHS?

I sent the following Freedom of Information Act request to DHS on March 22nd, 2015:

DHS FOIA red border

While I DID NOT receive the itemized and complete listing of the specific reasons that constitute grounds for removal of children from their parents’ custody …” which was request #1 in my FOIA letter (and which I still want DHS to provide), I did nevertheless receive the following partial answer to the FOIA request from Kate Luck, Public Information Coordinator – Office of the Director, on March 27, 2015. There are clickable links to numerous informational resources that may be of interest to some readers:

Subject: FW: FW: FOIA Request
From: Kate Luck <Kate.Luck@dhs.arkansas.gov>
Date: Fri, Mar 27, 2015 7:37 am
To: “clay@hsvtp.com” <clay@hsvtp.com>
Clay- here is some information for your request.

1.       Your best resource on this is our Child Maltreatment Assessment Protocol.

That will outline the types of abuse and how the case workers will investigate them. It’s important to note most situations are very case-by-case. For example, spanking is not considered child abuse. However, spanking a child to the point where they still are in pain two days later and bruises are left on the child may be considered child abuse. Each caseworker and investigator will have to make a judgement call on which situations rise to the level of child abuse.  I have attached the Child Maltreatment Code for you as well.

Now, these are the things that constitute abuse. As for what rises to the level of removing a child from the home, there are no hard and fast rules for that determination. Once the investigator gets into the home and is able to assess the situation, they have to determine whether or not the child’s safety is at risk. Often times there are issues that can be addressed while the child is in the home. However, if the caseworker believes the child is at an immediate risk, they have the authority to take the child/children on a 72 hour hold. Within that 72 hours, the department will present an affidavit to the judge and the judge will either determine that the agency had probable cause (reason to remove the child) or not. If the judge determines that probable cause did exist, then a probable cause hearing will be set within 5 days. At that hearing more evidence will be presented and the judge will determine if the children should remain in foster care or return to their family with a case plan (a plan to address the issues within the home).

2.       If it has been determined that the child/children cannot safely remain in the home, a placement decision will have to be made. The first priority is to place the child with a family member or fictive kin (fictive kin means someone who is not biologically related to the child but still has an important relationship with the child- could be a family friend, neighbor, church goer, etc.) In order to make a speedy placement, the department can “expedite” the process, so to speak. The family will still have to pass state background checks and a visual inspection of the home must be completed before placement. If this placement were to be more long term, the family would eventually have to go through the entire process to become a fully licensed foster home by taking the CPR and training classes, getting full background checks, etc. Here is an overview of that process.

If an appropriate kin/fictive kin placement can’t be found, the department will look for a foster home for the child. That could mean with another family, or in a group home, or in a therapeutic foster home (if the child has needs requiring intense therapy).  The main goals when it comes to placement are keeping sibling groups together, keeping them in the same school district as their home, and staying within 50 miles of their home. You can find more information in our Foster Parent Handbook on Page 23.  As for the factors you listed:

a.      a.   Homeschooling- This is not a factor when it comes to removing children from a home. We support the right to homeschool, however the program must be approved and registered with the Dept of Education (law here). By default, children in foster care are placed in public schools. However, waivers can be granted if it is in the best interest of the child to be placed in private, parochial, or home school. You can read more about that here (page 38)

b.      b.   Household Income- Poverty is never a reason to remove children from the home or to keep children in care. However, poverty can lead to other issues- like inadequate clothing or malnutrition. In instances like that, we will work with the family to address those problems. For foster homes, a foster family must provide proof of income and establish that they are financially secure before being approved as a home. It’s more about what you do with what you have than how much you make. You can read more about that here (page 9).

c.       c. The availability or non-availability of television for children in the home- This is not a factor. We do not require foster homes to have television.

d.      d.  The availability or non-availability of internet access for children in the home- This is not a factor. We do not require foster homes to have internet. However, foster homes must have a working telephone in case of emergencies. You can read more here (page 10)

e.      e. Religious considerations, including religious practices that parents may require children to participate in (e.g. home Bible studies, home worship services, requiring memorization of Bible passages, etc.)- Families may practice any religion they prefer as long as no part of a religious ritual constitutes abuse. We make every effort to place children in a foster home that practices the same religion. However, if that cannot be done, the foster home must provide access for the child to their preferred religious services, if that is something the children and family want.  You can read our policy on that here (Page 7)

f.        f. Corporal punishment issues (please provide explanation of DHS position about “spanking” “paddling” “switching” “whooping” or other variants. If DHS does not entirely disapprove of corporal punishment please so state. According to DHS where is the line or what factors are considered in making a determination between acceptable or appropriate discipline and “abuse”?)- The state does not disallow corporal punishment in families (EXCEPT foster families). The problem only exists when that punishment crosses over into abuse. Here is the policy taken from the child maltreatment code:

No unreasonable action shall be construed to permit a finding of abuse without having established the elements of abuse. “Abuse” does not include physical discipline of a child when it is reasonable and moderate and is inflicted by a parent or guardian for purposes or restraining or correcting the child. Abuse does not include when a child suffers transient pain or minor temporary marks as the result of a reasonable restraint if:

1. The person exercising the restraint is an employee of a child welfare agency licensed or exempted from licensure under the Child Welfare Agency Licensing Act and acting in his or her official capacity while on duty at a child welfare agency licensed or exempted from licensure under the Child Welfare Licensing Act;

2. The agency has policy and procedures regarding restraints;

3. The person exercising the restraint has been trained in properly restraining children, de-escalation, and conflict resolution techniques;

4. The restraint is in conformity with training and agency policy and procedures;

5. No other alternative exists to control the child except for a restraint;

6. The child is in danger of hurting himself or others; and

7. The restraint is for a reasonable period of time. Reasonable and moderate physical discipline inflicted by a parent or guardian does not include any act that is likely to cause and which does cause injury more serious than transient pain or minor temporary marks. The age, size and condition of the child and the location of the injury and the frequency of recurrence of injuries shall be considered when determining whether the physical discipline is reasonable or moderate.

However, the state does not allow corporal punishment in foster homes. You can read more here on page 6. Here is also a link to a brochure we use to help parents determine what is/isn’t appropriate discipline.

g.      An expressed desire by minor children in the home to be allowed to attend public or private school if they are homeschooling, desire to participate in sports, or desire for participation in parentally disallowed extra-curricular or away-from-home activities. Once children are placed in foster care, the state becomes their legal guardian. There becomes a team of people involved in making decisions based on what’s best for the child. That team will usually involve a CASA volunteer, the child’s caseworker, the child’s attorney ad litem, therapists, the parents and children themselves, etc. Once a child reaches the age of about 10, the department tries to involve them in the decision making process. If a child expresses a desire to play on a sport and the team feels the child would benefit from that, they may allow them to do so. Parents are absolutely allowed and encouraged to express their desires and provide input, but if the team feels that it is in the best interest of the child to allow them to participate in a previously disallowed activity, they may override the parent’s wishes.  As far as public/private school, as addressed above, foster children are enrolled in public school unless a waiver is obtained otherwise.

I hope this information is helpful to you. Here are some other publications that may shed some more light on the process:

Standards of Approval for Foster and Adoptive Homes

Guide for Families

DCFS Policies

More Resources

Out of home Placement Criteria

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