ENSURE THAT FAMILIES ARE CONNECTED TO AND HAVE ADEQUATE RESOURCES TO PAY FOR SERVICES
LOS ANGELES COUNTY’S FAILURE TO IDENTIFY ALL AVAILABLE SERVICES, AND INFORM AND CONNECT ALL PARENTS, INCLUDING VETERANS, INCARCERATED PARENTS, AND OTHERS, TO THESE SERVICES, IS HARMFUL
Parents have the constitutional right to care for and raise their children as they choose, and to make decisions on their behalf.(1) If the state removes a child from their family because of alleged abuse or neglect, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) must make “reasonable efforts”(2) to provide services to families to prevent removal of their children and to support a parent’s reunification with their child.(3) The reasonable efforts legal standard is intended as a means for the juvenile court to provide oversight of DCFS’s delivery of services. However, courts have failed to consistently enforce the reasonable efforts standard, and regardless, child protective agencies generally do not make any efforts to provide reasonable services to families.(4)
This is par for the course in Los Angeles County, which is the only county in California that does not pay for reunification services for parents, and actually requires some parents to pay for their children’s stay in foster care in addition to their own services.(5) In a typical DCFS case, the Children’s Social Worker (CSW) will provide a parent with a list of services, placing the burden on the parent to follow up with each provider in order to find an available resource.(6) The array of services included in a parent’s case plan may include parenting classes, drug counseling, domestic violence services, individual counseling, Alcoholics and/or Narcotics Anonymous, and/or anger management. Not only are these services costly, they also require a significant time investment in order to comply with the case plan’s requirements. Often, DCFS does not connect or refer families to the available free or income-scaled supports in the community, and does not make services easily accessible to guardians.(7) Free services often have long waiting lists, are hard to contact, provide fewer resources, and may be located far from a guardian’s residence. DCFS also does not provide transportation for parents every time it is needed.
The County’s failure to identify all available services, pay for, and provide connection to those services, creates the most barriers to reunification for low-income guardians of color, veterans, those who are incarcerated, and other guardians who cannot easily access services.
Many parents who fall into certain categories, like veterans, people who are incarcerated, immigrants, people of color, low-income folks, and others cannot access or do not have access to services that are individually tailored to meet their specific needs. As a starting point, DCFS should identify whether a parent who is court-ordered to complete services falls into one of these categories, or some other, in order to identify and connect parents to the services that are best suited to help them reunify with their children. Some of the specific issues these populations face are detailed below.
Currently, there is no relationship between the Veterans Administration (VA) and DCFS, which is a significant oversight considering how many programs and supports are available for veteran parents. The federal government provides programs and services to veterans through the VA, Veterans Family Wellness Centers, U.S. Vets, and Vet Centers. These centers offer free parenting classes and other supports for veteran parents, which could be counted toward completion of a parent’s dependency court case plan. However, DCFS currently does not accept completion of the courses the VA offers as counting toward completion of the case plan. Parents have also reported that emergency response social workers and assigned CSWs do not screen them to determine if they are a military veteran at first contact, during an investigation, or after dependency court proceedings begin. This lack of VA connection and support, creation of financial hardship, and loss of children compounds issues that veterans may already be experiencing.(8)
Incarcerated parents face unique struggles to complete their case plan requirements, including lack of regular contact with their CSWs, inability to have regular visits with their children, and unavailable or inaccessible programs required by the case plan. Parents report that DCFS does not credit relevant courses completed in prison. Incarcerated parents can also be “bypassed” by the dependency court, meaning that if the length of incarceration exceeds the time they would be allowed to complete a case plan, they could be denied the opportunity to reunify before the court moves towards another permanent plan (adoption or guardianship) for the children.(9) The separation of children from their parents who are incarcerated is only exacerbated by the dependency court system, which creates insurmountable barriers to maintaining parent-child relationships, is then used against the parent after incarceration when the ability to prove the strength of their bond with the children becomes a factor in reunification determinations, and also leads to profoundly negative effects on children’s mental and physical well-being.
Dependency court actors, like attorneys, judges, and CSWs, are often unfamiliar with the impacts of immigration law and policy on immigrant parents. CSWs may be unaware of available resources for immigrant parents or may fail to refer them to appropriate services that could support reunification. For example, a parent who is an undocumented domestic violence survivor may not report their abuse to law enforcement authorities, and have their child removed from their care for “failure to protect” them. The parent may qualify for immigration relief, such as a U-Visa or Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), but unless the CSW is aware of those options and the qualification criteria, the parent may not be referred.
In addition, an immigrant parent may have trouble accessing services because of language or cultural barriers. It is difficult for many U.S.-born parents to understand and navigate the dependency court system, and that difficulty is significantly compounded for parents from countries with different legal and cultural systems. Some immigrant parents are detained or deported during the dependency case and cannot access DCFS-approved services in the detention center or in their home country. For obvious reasons, these parents also will not be able to have access to their children for regular visits.
An immigrant parent may be undocumented, which presents additional hardships. Parents’ attorneys have reported that undocumented parents are very afraid to come to court and to cooperate with DCFS, because they are concerned they will be reported to immigration authorities. Without language access, culturally appropriate course offerings, education about the court system, and support in connecting to court-ordered services, immigrant parents are denied meaningful opportunities to reunify with their children.
Los Angeles County must recognize the negative impacts its failure to provide services for families who want to reunify for their children has caused, and must identify, and inform and connect all families who are entangled in the family policing system to these services.
We are asking the Board of Supervisors to:
Immediately require DCFS to pay for ALL court-ordered services for parents and families.
Bring on a consultant to identify all available County services, and implement a plan that informs and connects all parents, including veterans, incarcerated parents, and others, to these services.
Bring on a consultant with expertise in preventive child welfare services to conduct a countywide survey of all community based organizations that currently provide services to families impacted by DCFS, as well as community based organizations that generally provide family support services
Include scans of the VA system, services available in prisons and jails, services accessible to immigrants, services for low-income families, and services that are specifically tailored to the cultural experiences of families of color, including Black, Latine/x, and Indigenous families.
The consultant should also conduct focus groups and surveys of parents impacted by the family policing system, to obtain and implement their input on the types of services needed, accessibility issues, and other support parents need in order to successfully complete their case plan requirements
The County must immediately move to implement any findings and recommendations the consultant provides
1. Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923); Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000).
2. 45 C.F.R. § 1356.21(b)(1); Welf. & Inst. Code § 319(c)-(f).
3. For purposes of brevity, the term “parents” will be used throughout this policy paper to refer broadly to parents and others who have custody of a child that is removed by DCFS for alleged child abuse or neglect.
4. Vivek S. Sankaran & Christopher Church, Easy Come, Easy Go: The Plight of Children Who Spend Less Than Thirty Days in Foster Care, 19 U. Pa. J. L. & Soc. Change 207, 226 (2016).; Family Preservation, Foster Care, and Reasonable Efforts, Nat’l Coal. for Child Prot. Reform, https://nccpr.org/issue-papers-family-preservation-foster-care-and-reasonable-efforts/ (last visited May 12, 2022).
5. Jill Duerr Berrick, Reduce Number of CPS Families Required to Pay for Foster Care, CalMatters (Mar. 14, 2022), https://calmatters.org/commentary/2022/03/reduce-number-of-cps-families-required-to-pay-for-foster-care.
6. L.A. Cnty. Blue Ribbon Comm’n on Child Prot., The Road to Safety for Our Children 76-78 (2014), http://ocp.lacounty.gov/Portals/OCP/PDF/Reports%20and%20Communication/OCP%20Background/Blue%20Ribbon%20Commission%20Final%20Report%20(04-18-2014).pdf.pdf?ver=2018-10-24-083549-867
8. See generally L.A. Cnty. Veteran Advisory Comm’n, Veterans and Families in the LA County Court Systems (2021) (describing lack of partnership between the VA and DCFS).
9. Welf. & Inst. Code § 361.5.