In Juvenile Law, the Georgia Department of Family and Children’s Services (“DFCS”) has a Herculean task, to protect children who are being abused or neglected. There is no doubt that their mission is noble; there is little quarrel that their goal is just; but their execution of their mission and goal all too often falls so short that their conduct descends into the realm of the shocking, frightening and even horrific.
Picture this, two beautiful children, one boy, age five and one girl, age three, taken from their parents because their parents are lost in a vast labyrinth of drug dependency. The parents, sometimes together, sometimes not, are usually unemployed and are not keenly focused on whether their shelter, such as it is, has heat or lights. They are less than absolutely committed to the children having adequate clothing or food. For them, “make do” takes on a whole new meaning.
Someone makes a report. In steps DFCS. The DFCS officer takes quick stock of the situation and takes the children into State custody, which is to say, foster care. DFCS makes a cursory search for available family members. None arise within the week, so now a case plan starts to develop that envisions the children in at least long term State care. The parents are evaluated for whether they are realistically going to be competent to resume custody of their children in the semi-forseeable future. DFCS is thinking probably not.
In a few weeks, relatives from out of state start to come looking for the parents and their children. They discover that the parents are bad off and the children are gone. Fairly quickly, the family learn that the children are in foster care. Just as quickly, they are informed that DFCS has no interest in disturbing that care nor in placing the children with their extended family.
Federal law has long required that State agencies take reasonable efforts to make it possible for children placed in foster care to be reunited with their family. In Georgia, reasonable efforts are required to reunify children with family.
But here’s the rub, under the same statute, if continuation of reasonable efforts to return the child is determined to be inconsistent with the permanency plan for the child, the child shall be placed in accordance with a permanency plan and steps shall be taken to finalize the permanent placement of the child.
This means that, if DFCS decides that return is inconsistent with a permanent placement for the child, the child shall be permanently placed elsewhere, forthwith! Of course this has to be run through Juvenile Court, but that is all too often a political rubber stamp. (This topic is best addressed in a different post.)
DFCS will decide whether to return the child. And if DFCS decides not to, they will adopt that child out with all due haste. Bye, bye family. Forever.
Think I’m kidding? This is a part of the work that we do every day, trying to reunify children with their families after they’ve been taken. DFCS attorneys can be quite direct when they express that they won’t place children with other family members for a myriad of empty reasons such as, “the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree,” (a frequent argument against grandparents’) or, “just because the Department intends to adopt the children out.”
Both of these arguments are conclusory, devoid of evidence based reasoning and terribly chilling, but that is just another day at the office to DFCS’ way of looking at the world. That is how comfortable DFCS is with getting its way. This is the government acting like an absolute dictator.
So the two children in our story would be gone, gone gone. Granddad no more. Aunt of nothing. Write an epitaph where once there would have been another picture of a birthday party or a family reunion.
In “Juvenile Law,” the government has a long and sordid history of snatching children for its own cultural ends. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School is one vivid, historical example. Today’s DFCS practices of swelling the adoption population is just another and, in practice, every bit as tragic.
The moral to the story? If DFCS comes calling, it’s emergency time. But don’t call 911. You don’t need an ambulance. You need an attorney, stat! Because when DFCS comes calling, there is every reason to fear you have a fatal condition: the death of any connection between the children and their family. Forever.
Save the children. Call an attorney.