First and foremost talk to someone who knows these types of cases. Also known as a lawyer. What follows is a generalized statement. Your facts almost certainly are different and you need a lawyer advising you about YOUR facts. In my example I’d:
- Be nice to the caseworker who shows up on my doorstep. In the vast majority (probably 99% or so) they did NOT pick you. Instead they got a “referral” which, by law, means they HAVE TO investigate and so they are starting at the logical place to start. You must understand caseworkers are human too. Lawyers dream of arguing that big case and winning that big verdict. Caseworkers dream of having that case where they are recognized as going above and beyond (as in caseworker made herculean efforts to help decent, but misfortunate parent, recover). But in their day-to-day lives they deal with multiple cases of deadbeat parents who NEVER do what they say they are going to do. All while the child or children are in a foster home. And so the caseworker (like a cop) gets tired of being lied to constantly and eventually forms the opinion that “all parents (people) are liars.” Which presents an opportunity because if I actually only promise what I can do and DO IT, then I stand out from the vast majority of caseworker’s other cases. Given that caseworker has a ton of cases where the parents ARE liars, the caseworker is FAR MORE LIKELY to want to expend efforts in a case where the parent is truthful. The caseworker is the single most important person in any case (sorry attorneys et. al. but it really isn’t even close) and so I want that caseworker to want to help me. I’m going to kiss her (or his) a$$ and I am going to only promise that which I can do and DO IT.
- Do not mistake your caseworker for a psychiatrist. I am going to be nice to caseworker and I am going to co-operate (especially with respect to visitation) but I am not going to confuse my caseworker with a shrink or even a drinking buddy. I’m not going to be holding conversations about why I did something, or some trauma I suffered in childhood with my caseworker. The caseworker will be asking questions and there are some I will answer but I won’t be volunteering unasked information.
- I’d have a lawyer. Stevie Wonder is a brilliant musician but I wouldn’t get in a cab if Stevie were driving. Same with Ray Charles. Brilliant musicians but they can’t SEE. Why would you want to try to navigate a passage when you ARE blind? You do not know the rules nor the process and if common sense is your guide you are in for a surprise. Get someone who does know the rules and the process. Stay in contact with them. Make sure they can always contact you (i.e. update them on any new contact info) and provide them with the documentation I am about to talk about. Matlock couldn’t do a good job for you if he is not updated on your case.
- I would document everything. Dollar General will sell you a pack of ten manila folders for $1.99. I would get them, or any folder for that matter, and keep EVERY PIECE OF PAPER I had concerning my case. So when caseworker gives me that copy of the permanency plan it goes into folder. When I complete my A&D Assessment, I ask for documentation and, it goes in that folder. When I get new documentation I notify lawyer and he/she copies it. The dirty little secret is that you’d stand a better chance of getting President Obama to answer a phone call than a DCS caseworker. And so you should get their email. Generally, they do respond to email and, even if they don’t, later on, you can prove you sent an email. So you AND lawyer should have the caseworker’s email and be scanning and sending any new documentation via email to the caseworker. You should then go to your “sent file” folder and print out the sent email and put in it the folder. That way, six months later, when the caseworker testifies that you never sent the documentation you can show the sent email demonstrating that you have.
- I’d be visiting the child (or children) as much as was allowed and I would rearrange my schedule to get more visitation. Your kids have just been ripped from the only world they have known for god’s sake. Do the right thing. You have to drive 45 minutes to visit in the presence of some foster parents? Big f&cking deal! Compared to what the kids are going through that isn’t sh&t. And yes, I realize I am using some non-legal (some would say “unprofessional”) terms but it is the truth. Also it helps your case in that the caseworker sees that you care. Also, at visitation I would not be complaining IN THE PRESENCE OF THE CHILDREN about anything (DCS, foster parents etc). You argue your case in court not at visitation and although DCS routinely talks about the case to the children you should not do do. If you do the caseworker, or visitation supervisor, will testify that you did and the court will NOT like that. Instead, the visit would be about the children. I would be ACTIVELY engaged with the children. This is their only opportunity to see me. I’d also be bringing things (food, diapers, wipes, clothing, school supplies or other gifts) for the children at EVERY VISIT. If the caseworker or foster parent refused such gifts I’d want written documentation. You do not have to be rude about it. Instead I’d say “OK you are telling me not to bring gifts for my children. Can you please write that down because I want to support my children in any way I can and there is not a child support order or any other way I can do so?” In Tennessee, a parent has a duty to support his/her children regardless of whether there is an order to do so and so if you do nothing to support your children for four months or more the State can TERMINATE your parental rights for abandonment-failure to support. Before there is a child support order the only way you can support the children is by bringing stuff for the children at the visits. I would KEEP ALL receipts and put them in that documentation folder so two years later I could prove HOW MUCH I was supporting my children.
No matter what you see on Matlock, court is not what you SAY! The State is not going to just admit that you did everything you were supposed to do. Hell, they filed, and are trying to prove, a petition that you DID NOT do what you were supposed to do. In a contest between a caseworker the court knows and a “bad parent” the court does not know, the court is almost always going to side with the caseworker. Unless you can PROVE that the caseworker is wrong. We say the State must prove it’s case but the reality is if you can’t prove yours then you almost always LOSE.