Each Ohio county has a child protective services agency that addresses allegations of child abuse, neglect and dependency. These agencies are charged with investigating the allegations and determining their veracity. Many people do not know their rights when it comes to dealing with these agencies or their employees, and they may mistakenly assume that they have no choices and must do everything the agency tells them to do.
Q: What rights do I have if a caseworker comes to my home?
A: Unless the caseworker has a court order, you do not have to allow the caseworker into your house, permit her to talk to your children, sign releases for any of your personal information or consent to any evaluations or tests. You also have a right to have an attorney present when you talk to a caseworker.
Q: What happens if, based on the caseworker’s visit, the agency decides that my children are being neglected or abused?
A: In such a case, the agency may either ask you to work a voluntary case plan, or may file a complaint at juvenile court asking the state to intervene on behalf of your children.
Q: What happens if a complaint is filed against me?
A: A hearing must be held within 72 hours after a complaint is filed. This first hearing is a called a shelter care hearing. At this hearing, the agency must prove to the court that your children should not be returned home. Within 72 hours after the complaint is filed, an adjudicatory hearing must be scheduled. The adjudicatory hearing is a trial at which the agency must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the allegations in its complaint are true and rise to the level of abuse, neglect and/or dependency. If your children are found to be abused, neglected or dependent, the court will schedule a dispositional hearing where a case plan will be adopted and the temporary placement of your children will be determined.
Q: Should I get an attorney if a complaint is filed?
A: It would be very wise for you to find an attorney who practices in juvenile court. If an agency files a complaint alleging your children are abused, neglected and/or dependent, and you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint an attorney for you if you ask for one.
Q: What is a case plan?
A: The agency prepares a case plan, usually with input from the parents, to help the parents correct the issues that resulted in their children being found to be abused, neglected and/or dependent. A case plan may list objectives such as gaining appropriate employment and/or housing; providing all necessities for the children including education, medical care, food, clothing, and shelter; and resolving any criminal issues. The case plan also may recommend strategies for meeting these objectives, such as psychological assessments, counseling, parenting classes, domestic violence classes, drug and alcohol evaluations and treatment, and anger management classes. These objectives and strategies may apply to the children as well as the parents.
Q: Do my children get an attorney?
A: Counties differ as to determining when or whether an attorney is appointed to represent the children. However, if the court decides that the children are being neglected or abused, then the court will appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to determine and represent the best interests of the children. The GAL will also present the children’s wishes to the court. The court-appointed GAL will conduct an independent investigation by interviewing all the parties including the children, caseworkers, and service providers. The GAL will observe interactions between the children and the parents and will review all relevant records pertaining to the children.
Q: How long do I have to complete my case plan so I can get my children back?
A: You initially have approximately one year to complete every objective on your case plan. However, if you and your children’s other parent need more time to complete the case plan, and you have substantially complied by making progress on the objectives, you may request and receive up to two six-month extensions. If you and your spouse are separated and only you have completed everything on the case plan, it is possible for you to receive custody of your children even if you did not have custody when the case began.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by Akron attorney Denise E. Ferguson.