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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Fighting New York ACS for Child Reunification

For anyone sparring with New York's Administration for Child Services for reunification with their children, there is perhaps no time like the holidays to remind you why you're fighting.

December is one of the most difficult months for a family to be apart, and the new year is a reminder of how much precious time you are losing. In fact, Brooklyn ACS attorneys recognize that the more time passes with your child in foster care, the less likely reunification becomes.

The median length of foster care stay prior to reunification is six months. After that six months, though, research suggests the chances of a successful reunification begin to dwindle. However, there may be ways that you can expedite the process and bring your child home sooner. 

A recent report by the state's Child Welfare Advisory Board revealed that the number of children taken from their homes and placed in foster care has been significantly reduced over the last six years, from 12,000 foster care placements down to about 6,000. Officials attribute this to better training and lesser caseloads for child welfare workers responsible for making emergent decisions regarding child placements. 

But the truth is, mistakes still happen. That's why strong legal representation is important. 

The reasons for the foster care placement are going to be important in determining the strategy that will be employed. One of the best things an attorney can help you negotiate are realistic terms and conditions for reunification. Many parents are eager to have their children back, but find the benchmarks set by the court is sometimes out of reach.

Federal law requires that state agencies make reasonable efforts to provide assistance and services to parents to make removal a last-resort option in the first place. The idea is that if, for example, you are poor and can't buy food, you shouldn't be punished by having your children taken away. Rather, the state should make efforts to help you better provide food for your children. 

The same concept can be applied when it comes to requirements to become drug-free or to secure stable housing. 

The only time states aren't required to make reasonable efforts is when there are some mitigating circumstances, such as long-term incarceration, severe mental illness or abandonment. New York Soc. Serv. Law 384-b(7)(f) defines reasonable efforts, while Soc. Serv. Law 358-a(3)(a) spells out when they are required and Soc. Serv. Law 358-a(3)(b) spells out when they are not required.

But that is only relevant in a small number of ACS cases. Most of the time, the court's goal will be reunification.

Many times, reunification can be achieved more swiftly if the parent has an advocate from the start, beginning with the initial placement process. Even if ACS determines that a child must be removed from parental custody, placements with extended relatives tend to result in more successful reunifications because they keep parents and children connected. This is a powerful motivator for the court to eventually return the child to parental custody, as judges don't typically want to be known for keeping families apart. Having an advocate to argue this point for you at the outset can set the tone for the rest of your case. 

The next part of the process includes setting realistic goals. That might mean attending drug treatment. It could be adherence to probation requirements. It might be following through on efforts to secure gainful employment. Your attorney can help you determine what those might be for you so that they can be convincingly presented to the judge overseeing your ACS case. 

OurACS case attorneys in Brooklyn can be reached at (718) 864-2011.

Additional Resources:

Reasonable Efforts to Preserve or Reunify Families and Achieve Permanency for Children, Oct. 2012, Child Welfare Information Gateway

More Blog Entries:

New York City Child Custody Cases Must Afford Both Parties Due Process, Dec. 20, 2013, New York City ACS Case Attorney Blog


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