As a parent if your child is taken there will be a meeting at DCS not too long after the removal. Caseworkers call these meetings “CFTM” or “Permanency Plan” meetings. Technically the terms are different but “CFTM” & “Perm Plan” are used interchangeably by the caseworkers. The purpose of the meeting is to develop a plan of things the parent(s) needs to do to get the children back. I say “develop” and that implies that the parent has input but the reality far too often is that the meeting consists of DCS TELLING the parent(s) what they will have to do to get the child back.
First, if you have an attorney you should notify him/her immediately when you find that the meeting has been scheduled. He/she should be there if possible. If he or she cannot make that date then he or she AND YOU should be contacting the caseworker to ask that they reschedule. If he or she is there let he or she do the talking.
Second, the meeting will begin with DCS passing around a “confidentiality” agreement. You will have to sign it or the meeting will not take place. You need to get a copy of that agreement. Also see my blog on confidentiality. Even though they WILL tell you that the meeting is confidential it is routine for them to testify in court about what you said at the meeting so you need to be wary of what you are saying and say as little as possible.
Third, at the end of the meeting they will ask you to sign the permanency plan. Most of their form signature pages will have approximately four boxes for you to check. It is OK to check the box that says “I was present”. It is OK for you to check the box that says “I participated”. But if you disagree with ANY of the requirements and ever want to argue in court about them then, for the love of god, DO NOT CHECK the box “I agree with this permanency plan”. I’ve had many cases where I argue in court against some patently ridiculous requirement only to be told by the court, “Marble, your client agreed to it”. You also need a copy of the permanency plan AND the signed signature pages which you need to keep and give a copy to your attorney. By the way if you disagree with a particular proposed requirement at the meeting you should tell them you disagree and calmly give your reason. Do not get mad and argue because the courtroom, not the meeting, is the place to argue and if you get too argumentative at the meeting they’ll kick you out and later testify that you were being uncooperative. I once had a client who behaved so badly at the meeting that DCS added a requirement that he do anger management counselling. You are being watched and if you act badly some caseworker will later testify about it in court.
Finally DCS WILL tell you that you have to do everything on the permanency plan or you will never get your children back. This is HALF true. Many times the meeting is BEFORE any adjudication. An adjudication is like a criminal trial in that the State MUST prove the allegations which led to removal. And if the State can’t prove their case at adjudication then they have to return the child regardless of whether you have done anything on the permanency plan. The reality though is that the State wins the VAST MAJORITY of adjudications so, if it were me, I’d go ahead and start doing many of the things on the permanency plan even if I was going to fight the adjudication. For example one of the requirements is almost always visitation. No one would have to tell me to visit my kid and so I’d be doing that regardless. Also some of the requirements are fairly simple and can be done very quickly. For example they usually require a copy of your driver’s license, proof of auto insurance and title to a car OR a transportation plan. If you have the DL, auto insurance and title then go ahead and give them a copy and ask that they note that you have done so on the permanency plan. If you don’t then write a short statement (transportation plan) about who will transport you and the child in the event of an emergency. This requirement takes like 5 minutes to complete so you should go ahead and do so.
Also, as a parent you have the RIGHT to challenge any of the requirements as being unreasonable. You do this in court because the court has to rule that EACH of the requirements are reasonable AND related to the causes that led to removal of the child or prevent the safe return of the child to the parent. In re Valentine, 79 S.W.3d 539 (Tenn. 2002) is the best Tennessee case on this topic. In that case DCS had a requirement that a mother get a GED or a vocational degree. The court said that while getting a GED or vocational degree would be a good idea for mother it had nothing to do with why the child was removed and therefore the court ignored it. Obviously, as mentioned above, if you sign a statement that you agree with the plan you are going to have a hard time challenging it so be careful about what you are signing.
So at the permanency plan hearing you need to BEHAVE, get copies of everything and be VERY CAREFUL about what you sign. If you have a doubt about signing tell them that your attorney wants to see anything before you sign and then get a copy to your attorney and follow their advice.