As a society, media feed us a narrative which spins a story of the villainous parents whose children are rescued by the government, by DFCS. The media never see the background, the person for whom perhaps compassion might inure. No, the outliers, the anomalies grab headlines.
We devour media coverage. How is it that we can shape and change this narrative? How can we show that parents, and foster parents, show up as the heroes most of the time? We can share the stories and highlight what parents’ attorneys see every day but the press ignore. The media overlook these heartwarming stories because no headlines in the pop culture villain transformed into hero overcoming a hard time.
A reporter writing a profile on my books was surprised to hear that I believe parents in Dependency Court, by and large, truly love their children. Success in Dependency Court comes from my sincere desire to guide parents entangled in the court system to victory.
The book started as a two page letter to Bethany, an appointed client. She worked a regular shift at a fast food restaurant. I could usually find her there, even when she missed court. She lived her life, at that point, with no phone and, I hoped, couch-surfing. DFCS “removed,” the legal term for took, her very young child. Everyday away from this child was a substantial proportion of that child’s life and diminished her bond with this beloved child.
Her life revealed the complementary issues of domestic disharmony, likely physical abuse, and substance abuse, probably addiction. As a former domestic violence prosecutor, the explanations and excuses rang familiar. She fit the classic pattern.
I believed then and believe to this day that parents love their children. Some parents just haven’t acquired the tools, the skills, and didn’t have the upbringing to be effective parents without help. Add in a parent’s own undiagnosed and/or untreated issues-chaos follows.
As my appointment ended when the Court entered a disposition, I wanted to help Bethany understand, to empower her. The case was not hopeless at that point, but she needed to act. I wrote her a two page letter. That letter became a small booklet. My partner kindly directed me to be less judgmental and more proactive. He was of course right. Finally, Success in Dependency Court is in print.
In the almost 17 years I’ve worked as an attorney, parents are not usually the villains. Parents in Dependency Court have the same problem that we all have: changing the story in our minds about who we are and what type of parent, person we are. When the government says “you’re not parenting properly,” it takes time and patience to shepherd parents through the process.
Success in Dependency Court supplements the experts and therapists with the unwritten rules of successfully navigating the Court system.
(c) Nancee Tomlinson 2017
DFCS automatically places any substantiated investigation on the Georgia Child Abuse Registry. What does that mean in real terms for real people? What’s the danger?
The Child Abuse Registry is so new, such a recent creation, no one can predict what the State will do with it. Can the State change the uses? Modify it? Who knows what changes will come. Fighting placement on the child abuse registry when you receive notice is your only opportunity to challenge placement on the registry.
DFCS, the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, investigates allegations of child abuse. They must determine whether to substantiate an allegation of child abuse. According to the DFCS website, the definition of a substantiated is
An investigation disposition by a CPS investigator concludes, based on a preponderance of evidence collected, that the allegation of maltreatment as defined by state law and CPS procedure requirements is true. (DFCS “what does substantiate mean?“)
The decision of DFCS about what a preponderance of evidence means is not the final answer though.
Two different things happen as a result of a substantiated DFCS investigation. One, DFCS becomes involved with the family where the abuse is said to have occurred. This aspect is covered in another blog post. The second thing: DFCS generates a report and places the alleged abusive person on the state’s Child Abuse Registry.
The Georgia Legislature created the Child Abuse Registry. The alleged abusive person will receive notice by certified mail of their placement on the registry and must request a hearing within 10 days of receiving the notice.
If a hearing is requested, then an administrative law judge (not the juvenile court judge) will decide whether a preponderance of evidence exists for the alleged abusive person to remain on the list. The hearing requires that DFCS (the respondent) prove by a preponderance of evidence why the alleged abusive person should remain on the registry. The Petitioner (the alleged abusive person) or the Petitioner’s attorney will fight to prevent DFCS from establishing the preponderance of evidence using the well known court rules and rules of evidence.
The legislature restricted who can see the Child Abuse Registry, referred to as CAR. According to Georgia law OCGA 49-5-185, access is limited to, an abuse investigator for purposes of an investigation only, government agencies of any state which provide professional licenses to individuals who work with children or around children, and an to Court Appointed Special Advocate programs for screening volunteers.
© Nancee Tomlinson 2017
I’ve put together a simplified timeline for juvenile court. The internal workings of juvenile court require more explanation. This timeline is an initial approach for the uninitiated attorney.