This article discusses the forensic process for determining if child services failed to protect children. Social Work expert Abigail Rich has investigated a variety of cases where children have sustained serious injuries or died while under the supervision of Child Protective Services.
CHILD WELFARE CASES – EXPERT OVERVIEW OF THE STANDARD OF CARE
A forensic investigation into the actions of Child Protective Services almost universally means that a critical incident has occurred involving a child. Many of these cases involve abuse or neglect and our experts are often tasked with determining if a child service agency or provider failed to meet the standard of care for protecting the welfare of the child. For those unfamiliar with the system, it is important to understand how the system works and some of the potential points of failure.
A child’s journey through “the system” begins with child protective services being alerted through their hotline. From that point forward, case workers, social workers, and care providers must follow the standard of care for investigating the case and determining the best course of action for each child. Delays and breakdowns in the system can deprive a child of necessary services or protections.
SAFETY ASSESSMENTS AND SAFETY PLANS
Through the entire lifecycle of a case, from the beginning of the investigation through closing, the safety of children is constantly being assessed. This is immediate, current safety, not the potential risk for abuse and neglect. Some of the areas evaluated are the vulnerability of the children, the ages of the children (ages 0-5 are most vulnerable for abuse or death in their own home), children with any cognitive, emotional, or physical limitations, any history of domestic violence, the records of mental health issues and/or substance abuse in the home, and the parents’ ability to protect the children.
Based upon these criteria, it will be determined if a Safety Plan should be put in place. A Safety Plan is a document created by the case worker in conjunction with the family and their supports. It clearly outlines the necessary action steps that will be taken to control threats of serious harm to a child. A Safety Plan addresses a specific caregiver behavior, emotion, or condition that results in a child being unsafe and will remain in effect as long as the case remains open and the identified safety concerns are unresolved.
SYSTEM BREAKDOWNS THAT CAN LEAVE CHILDREN VULNERABLE
Families working with Child Protective Services often face a variety of challenges, including insecure housing or communication challenges, but it is the responsibility of care agents to recognize when conditions pose specific risks to the children and when to intervene. Some of the system vulnerabilities and typical intervention points include:
When Children are in Their Own Homes
The first breakdown can start in the very beginning stages of the investigation, when an investigative worker makes a home visit and either cannot find the family or the parent(s) fail to cooperate with an investigation, and the case worker then fails to take the necessary steps to ensure child safety. This could mean contacting law enforcement, social services, or the child’s school to find a current address.
Once a case has been opened and there are mandates for services to be provided in the home, a breakdown may occur if case workers fail to visit the home or provide services as mandated. A breakdown can also occur if the parents fail to cooperate with the case worker, whether due to being transient or simply not allowing access to children. This potentially leaves the child(ren) in inappropriate or unsafe housing.
It is also critical for case workers to verify that children are going to school regularly, up to date on medical care, and attending treatments described in the safety plan. This requires that the case worker obtain proper verification and documentation, rather than relying on the parent’s word, which can open the possibility for neglect and a dangerous lapse in necessary services and care.
Premature or Inappropriate Reunification
Some of the breakdowns in the system that may occur when children are reunited prematurely include:
- Parents not sober, relapsing, or actively in treatment
- No evaluations of bonding or parenting capacity when these issues are in question
- Parental failure to attend parenting classes if it is a goal, particularly for children with behavioral problems, teenagers, or medically fragile children
- Parent’s failure to attend or cooperate with mental health services and/or parent’s failure to cooperate with the child’s therapy
- Inappropriate/unsafe housing
- Case worker’s failure to verify that parents have attended services or worked towards completion of goals
Failed or Dangerous Reunification
Once the children are home, some of the breakdowns that could occur are:
- Parental failure to cooperate or provide access to the children
(ex: won’t let case worker inside the home)
- Parental relocation without telling anyone
- Case workers fail to visit the children as mandated, in their home
- Case workers fail to verify that children are attending school, receiving medical care and if needed, mental health services
- Parents stop attending their own treatment
CHILD WELFARE FORENSIC INVESTIGATIONS
Robson Forensic offers a comprehensive technical solution toward the resolution of disputes involving the adequacy of care and supervision at a broad range of public, private and institutional settings. A social work expert can evaluate whether the standard of care was violated in cases where a child has sustained serious injuries or died in their own home or in out of home placements due to abuse or neglect while child protective services was involved.
For more information, call us at 800.813.6736 or submit an inquiry.
Social Work Expert
Abigail Rich is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with experience as both a direct care Child Welfare Social Worker and Supervisor. As a Child Welfare Social Worker, Abigail provided case management services. She conducted home assessments, risk assessments and safety plans and placed children in foster care, kinship care, group homes and residential treatment facilities. As a Child Welfare Supervisor, she supervised and reviewed case files and provided direct supervision in the decision making of children’s safety and case planning. She also provided supervision to the direct care social workers on the Child Abuse Hotline to determine the risk and safety of children during the initial contact after a report was received.