DCS just took my kids. Can they at least stay with my family while all this gets sorted out?
Yes. When the Department of Children’s Services takes children from a parent, they are required to find somewhere for the children to be while their investigation is underway. The law requires DCS to place the children within your family if possible, but it’s essential that you be vocal, and that you get an attorney quickly, to ensure that this actually happens. Here’s how it’s supposed to work:
If you are being investigated for abuse or neglect, DCS is supposed to, first, place your children with their other parent. This is likely not the time to let your relationship with the other parent, even if it’s bad, get in the way. If the kids can’t be with you for whatever reason, they are likely going to feel most comfortable with their other parent. Assuming they are at least a safe place to be in the short term, tell DCS who and where they are. Call the other parent and ask them to intervene.
If the other parent is not safe for your kids to be with, DCS is supposed to attempt to put the children with an “available and appropriate” relative. T.C.A. 37-2-414 provides:
(2) When a child has been removed from such child’s home and is in the care, custody, or guardianship of the department, the department shall attempt to place the child with a relative for kinship foster care.
Tell DCS who all of your relatively sane family members are, and give them their phone numbers right away. Start with the people who the children know best, and the people who live closest to you. The less the children have to move, the better off they will be during this period of crisis. Don’t put the kids in the position of having to change schools, live in a strange city, etc. if you don’t have to. Also, the more information DCS can get, quickly, about the family member’s situation, the more likely they will place the children with them. Out-of-state relatives are the hardest to place children with because DCS has to complete a “home study” to ensure that they are safe for the kids. This needs to happen quickly.
Again, don’t let past family dynamics get in the way. It’s about the relationship of your kids and their family – it’s not about you, not right now.
The law establishes a hierarchy of goals for placement of children which are: (i) return of the child to parent; or (ii) Permanent placement of the child with a fit and willing relative or relatives of the child. T.C.A. 37-2-403(a)(1). Only if no such placement is found may the Department consider its other alternatives, including placing the child for adoption, permanent guardianship, or other planned permanent living arrangements.
“So, what’s all this talk about adoption? My kids are being removed for just a minute, right? This will all be straightened out in a few days, that’s what the caseworker said?”
Know this: that caseworker is a lot more worried about getting those children out of the situation than he or she is in giving you accurate information about when you are going to get them back. You are likely looking at weeks, months, and maybe never. DCS has a track record of quickly putting children with foster parents, rather than following the law and working hard to either return them to you or get them to your family. The reason is simple: foster parents have already passed the background check. They are ready and able to adopt your children. And it is a lot easier to place them there and just go through the motions than to do the hard work to get them back to you. Add to that the typical caseworker’s attitude, which is, you had your chance, and you blew it. These kids deserve better. That may or may not be true, but recognize this attitude and do whatever you can to get these children to someone they know, and someone who knows you.
If DCS has taken your children, you are looking at a long and tough battle to get them back, and you are going to need help getting through the legal nightmare this is going to be. Our advice is this: (1) get them to someone you know, and (2) hire a lawyer to make sure this happens, and make sure you are getting the support you are entitled to get from DCS to get them back. Do both of these things, quickly, and aggressively. Do not take no for an answer. These are your kids. Fight for them.
If you are looking for an attorney to help you with a DCS case, call (865) 685-4780 to schedule a case assessment with Margaret Held or another criminal defense attorney.