Top Ten Things You Should Know About Your Juvenile Dependency Case

 

1.       Yes They Can Do That!

2.       How To Talk To Social Workers

3.       Get Help From Your Family And Friends

4.       Get Legal Help

5.       Your Home Is Your Castle

6.       Do Not Consent To Having Your Child Be Interviewed

7.       Do Not Fail The Attitude Test

8.       Beat Them To The Punch With Your Own Experts And Evidence

9.       Never Admit Guilt

10.   Never Lose Hope

 

 

{C}1.                   Yes They Can Do That!

{C}a.       People cannot believe that their children can be taken away from them at the drop of a hat; based on an anonymous repot; without real evidence.  Believe it!  Yes they can do that.  The law operates under the assumption that it is better to be safe rather than sorry when it comes to a child’s safety.  As a result, the social workers are going to detain and ask questions later.

{C}2.                   How To Talk To Social Workers

{C}a.       Some attorneys will tell you not to talk to social workers at all.  It is a good advice, but impractical.  I have heard judges over the years punish my clients for exercising their right to remain silent.  The judges will say it openly , in court and on the record.  The parent must communicate with the social worker.  The parent must work with the social worker.  I wish this was as simple as in the criminal defense world where your right to remain silent is enshrined in the United States Constitution.  It is more complicated with juvenile dependency because juvenile dependency is not a criminal matter!  That’s right.  They can take your kids away permanently, but they do not have to give you the same rights they give you if they try to put you away in jail or prison.

{C}b.      So what is the solution?  1. You have the right to have an attorney present.  Instead of telling the social worker that you are not going to speak to them at all, tell them that you want to have your attorney be present while you talk to them.  The social workers are going to try to manipulate you into talking with them without the benefit of an experience juvenile dependency attorney.  They are going to try to scare you.  They will promise quick resolution of the case if you cooperate with them now. Stay Strong!  Tell the social worker as follows, “Sir or Madam, I would like to talk to you about what happened, but I am going to follow legal advice and have an attorney be present during our conversation.” What is going to happen as a result of your request is that the social workers are going to go looking for their own attorneys to be present during this interview.  Are you surprised that the social workers are so keen on ensuring their rights are protected by having their lawyers be present?  While they are looking for their own attorneys, you have the time to find yours.

{C}c.       2. You cannot avoid communicating with the social workers completely, but you should limit your communications in writing.  Let me give you just one example of why you cannot avoid talking to the social workers completely – visitation.  The social workers know where your child is and you probably do not.  Even if you do know, the social workers still hold the keys to your visits with your children so you have to communicate with a social worker to set up the visits.  But you do not have to do it in person.  Social workers are overworked and understaffed.  It is going to be difficult for you to catch the social worker on the phone. 

{C}d.      So use these suggestions for communicating with the social workers:  1. Always communicate in writing. 2. Use email if possible.  In Los Angeles County, DCFS workers are actually required to give out their email address since February of 2012. 3. Use fax machine.  Social workers are reluctant to give out their email address even when they are mandated to do so.  But their business cards always have a fax number.  It is worth the extra money to write them a letter and then send them via fax.  Fax is better because you will have a written confirmation, preferably with a copy of the actual first page of your fax.  Later on when the social worker is going to say that she never heard from you, you are going to produce this confirmation for the judge to read.

{C}e.      If you have to communicate with the social worker over the phone and she is not available, then know that you can always call her main office and ask to speak with her supervisor.  Even if the social worker’s supervisor is not available you can still speak with a live person, just ask to speak with the supervisor-on-duty.  No matter what the operator tells you, there is always a supervisor-on-duty!

{C}3.                   Get Help From Your Family And Friends

{C}a.       It is best if you do not discuss the details of your case with anyone except your lawyer.  However, this does not mean that you should not ask for help. You are going through an extremely stressful situation. You are probably embarrassed.  You do not want your relatives and our friends to know about your situation with the child protective services agency or department.  But your child needs come first.  You do not have the luxury of keeping this burden to yourself!  Without giving away the details, you have to tell your family and friends that you need their help. 

{C}b.      Who are the people that you should ask for help?

{C}                                                               i.      It should be someone who has a clean criminal and child abuse record; someone who has the time, the commitment, the inclination, the trust to help you.  The people living with this person or persons should also have clean records.

{C}                                                             ii.      It should be someone who knows the child and has a relationship with a child

{C}                                                            iii.      It is preferable if it is a close relative (grandparent, aunt, uncle) or any relative, but in a pinch a trusted family friend with a good relationship with the child can mean the difference between you having frequent visits with and having short visits at the child protective agency place

{C}                                                           iv.      If your potential monitor has committed certain crimes, they are automatically disqualified. But there is an exemption process for most criminal offenses.  Having said that, the key is speed.  You need to place the child with a friendly relative or friend fast.  So pick someone with a clean record.  It will make things faster and easier.

{C}c.       Here is how family and friends can help.  Produce a list of family and friends to give to the social worker (by email or fax, see above).  The list should list the family and friends in order of preference.  The list should have their name, contact information such as physical address, email, phone number.  For individuals who are willing to have your children be placed with them, you should also list everyone who lives at their house. 

{C}d.      Here is what to tell your family and friends about your juvenile dependency case.  I am being investigated by the child protective services.  While the investigation is going on, I need your help. You can help by acting as placement for the child(ren) or as my monitor.  I do not need you to be my advocate.  I do not need you to argue with the social workers and try to convince them that I am innocent.  I have a lawyer.  The lawyer will take care of that.  If the social worker asks you about the allegations against me, don’t try to defend me – tell the truth.”  The truth is that unless your family member or a friend were right there when the alleged abuse happened they do not have any personal knowledge about the allegations.  The social workers will ask them about the allegation.  Most people, even though they know nothing about what happened, will try to defend you.  Here is how the social worker will use this defense against you.  If the monitor or potential placement refuses to believe the possibility of the allegation then how can they protect the child from further abuse by the parent.  So again, the potential placement or monitor should simple say that “I do not know what happened.  I am here for the child(ren).  I will do whatever the Court orders and I will follow your suggestions (social worker’s suggestions) on how to follow the Court’s orders.

{C}4.                   Get Legal Help

{C}a.       You are involved in a serious legal battle.  The social worker has a team of lawyers.  The child gets a lawyer.  Shouldn’t you get a lawyer too?

{C}b.      Here is why you should hire our firm

 

{C}c.       We understand the juvenile dependency system, but we are not the system!  Mark and Ilia are both from the Former Soviet Union.  They think that the social workers resemble the communists back home a little too much.  So it is our pleasure to protect your rights in this system.  Mark has been fighting the system for the past 7 years.

{C}d.      We are not new to juvenile dependency but we just opened up our own firm so we can provide you with quality advice at a reasonable price.  This is crucial because your fight is going to be lengthy. If you are charged over $250 or over $300 per hour, you are not going to have the resources to hire an attorney to actually stick with you for the duration of your battle.

{C}e.      We provide our cell phone numbers to our clients so that they can contact us even after business hours.  We return our calls within 6 business hours.

{C}f.        We have the experience to bring your child back to you or to your loved ones faster.

 

{C}g.       What sets ST Legal apart from the competition?

 

{C}h.      Our competition are court appointed attorneys, family law attorneys who pretend to know juvenile dependency, and a handful of juvenile dependency attorneys who know what they are doing, but are more expensive.

{C}i.         I take each group of competitors in turn.

{C}j.        Court appointed attorneys.  Each court-appointed attorney has a heavy case load.  In Los Angeles County, each one has at least 200 cases.  Some of them are good.  Some of them stopped caring a long time ago.  Some of them are new to the system and hate their jobs because of low pay and heavy case load.  Whichever type is your lot, there is no way that an attorney carrying such a heavy load can give you the best legal representation possible.  They are not likely to be able to return your calls in time, if ever.  They do not have the time to learn your story and so your side of the story never gets presented to the judge.  Worse, they do not have the time to adequately explain to you why they are asking you to do certain things. Many clients have told me over the years that after my free initial consultation they knew more about the system than they ever learned from their court appointed attorneys.

{C}k.       Family law attorneys.  Many family law attorneys make the mistake of thinking that because they know family law they can help juvenile dependency law clients.  This mistake can cause parents, grandparents, and foster parents dearly.  First problem is that family law attorneys do not speak the language of juvenile dependency.  The court appointed attorneys can spot a family law attorney as soon as the bewildered attorney opens his or her mouth.  The court appointed attorneys, county counsel, minor’s counsel, do not want to deal with someone who does not understand their world.  Judges do not like attorneys who are familiar with the language of this system either.  Lack of knowledge translates into poor advice.

{C}l.         Private attorneys practicing juvenile dependency.  There is literally a handful of private counsel who practice juvenile dependency on a regular basis and know what they are doing.  They usually have a large office and other people working for them.  This is known as a large overhead.  Large overhead translates into higher fees.  If they are charging you $250 to $495 for their services, your retainer with them is going to ran out before they can actually help you.  You just wasted your money because once the retainer is gone, often times so is the attorney.

{C}m.    Here is another bit of inside information.  Other private counsel have other associate attorneys working for them; doing 99% of the work.  They charge you anywhere from $250 to $395 per hour for their associate attorneys’ time.  I know because I used to be one of those associate attorneys.  No matter how often they tell you that they will handle your case personally, it is not mathematically possible.  So the person that you have hired, you may never see again.  Their associate attorneys may do a good job or they may do a poor job, but it is not going to be the principle attorney doing the work.

{C}n.      With our firm, you get the same attorney that you hired, the same attorney that you know, the same one who is going to take the time to learn your story, and you are going to be paying less than what another firm will charge you for their associate attorney time.  Take advantage of the fact that we have low overhead.  The low overhead is not going to last.

 

{C}5.                   Your Home Is Your Castle

Under no circumstances should you let any government agent in your home unless he or she has a warrant or order issued by a court. You should ask to see the warrant or order, because the CPS worker may try to deceive you  and say he has one when he doesn't.  If social worker does not have one, then you should refuse them the entry to your home until the warrant is secured . Sometime the social worker might claim that there is an emergency to gain an entry to your home. You should demand to know what is the emergency and ask why are there no police officers. Usually if there is true emergency, police officers are present. Do not even open the door to let social worker  look at the kids.

This is the only way without any exceptions. Remember, by allowing the social worker in your house, you are waiving your constitutional protection.  If the social worker wants to take your kids from you, he or she will find something in your home to support the removal of your child.

The social worker may try to trick or threaten you to get an access to your home. Remember it’s all lies. You have the 4th amendment protection and social worker needs a warrant to enter your home.

 

{C}6.                   Do Not Consent To Having Your Child Be Interviewed

{C}a.       Whether or not the social worker is allowed to interview your children is governed by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  There are exceptions.  If there is an exigent circumstance (an imminent threat of harm, ongoing emergency), the social workers can interview your child without a warrant.  Otherwise, the social workers need to obtain a warrant.

{C}b.      That’s the law, now let’s talk about reality. Here is what the social workers are going to do.  They are going to go to your child’s school or day care and interview them without you ever finding out what is going on.  To prevent this, the minute that you think you maybe investigated by the social workers, contact your child’s school or pre-school and let them know that you do not consent to the child being interviewed.  If possible, put it in writing.  In other words, if you have the school officials’ email or fax, send them an email and/or fax even though you have already spoken to them on the phone.

{C}c.       Understand that you may not be able to stop the interview from taking place, but at least do not consent to it.  You should not talk to your child about the allegations either because this could easily backfire against you because you will be accused of influencing the children.  You should be careful about recording anyone in the State of California.  It is usually illegal to do without the consent of the other party and guess what, the social workers will not consent.  I am tempted to come up with some scheme whereby you set up the equipment and by walking through the door the social workers consent, but ultimately this may not be worth the trouble that you  can get yourself into with video or audio recording.  I have seen multiple recordings of children by their parents; usually this does not help the parent! 

{C}7.                   Do Not Fail The Attitude Test

{C}a.       Do not fail the attitude test. Do not be rude to the social workers.  They will use your (often) justified anger against you.  Put on your poker face.  Talk to the social workers as if they were police officer or your employers:  be polite but be firm; do not use curse words.  You can say what you need to say (i.e. I do not consent) without getting angry, without cursing them out.

{C}8.                   Beat Them To The Punch With Your Own Experts And Evidence

{C}a.       If the allegations are physical, then try to have a reliable third party take pictures of your child.

{C}b.      Find our own psychologists and medical doctors and therapists to go to.  This is one of the reasons why you need an attorney.  An attorney can help you get your own evidence and experts in place instead of relying on the social workers.

{C}c.       Sometimes, as part of the trial strategy, attorney will ask you to attend classes.  Make sure that the social worker knows of where you are taking these classes and that they have approved them.  Then communicate to the social workers (in writing, see above) proof of your attendance and your certificates.  This will make the evidence that your attorney needs, much easier to make.  Just as a precaution, bring 5 copies of these documents to court with you, in case the social worker failed to attach them to her report.  To ensure that the social worker does not have excuses why she failed to include your evidence, make sure that you send these documents to the social worker in writing well ahead of your next hearing.

 

{C}9.                   Never Admit Guilt

 

If you are innocent of neglect or abuse why would you say you are guilty if the CPS agent demands that you admit to your guilt? If you are accused or charged with neglect because someone told  the  CPS agent that you are have been addicted to drugs or alcohol, the social worker probably does have a good-reason to be concerned for your child’s safety.

 

Even if you do think that you consume alcohol too often do not incriminate yourself in this investigation. Be quiet.  DO NOT Admit ANYTHING! Please do not think you can trust them. Even if you think that you might have an issue that needs to be addressed  now is  not the time;  CPS agent is not your  SPIRITUAL LEADER or your FRIEND.  Social worker is not to HELP YOU. This person's goal is to find evidence to incriminate you and TAKE YOUR KIDS.

 

Whatever you do, do not admit anything.  It would be immoral to do so if you truly haven't done anything, and it may be a quick way to jail and to lose your kids forever. CPS agents are not above lying to you to prove your guilt. Instead, work with your private CPS defense attorney to find the professional help you might need  (make sure that such program is court-approved). If you do not admit guilt, you can then later present issues to the court to keep your kids under your roof or to get your kids returned to you when appropriate.

If you think that admitting guilt will save your kids you are mistaken.  In fact, it will remove many of the options that you need right now to get your life in order and potentially send you to jail. NEVER volunteer any information until you contact an attorney: preferably someone who practices in Juvenile Dependency Court regularly. The attorney will give a good advice that will prevent you from going to jail and potentially return your kids to you.

 

{C}10.               Never Lose Hope

{C}a.       I have won cases I should not have won.  If I know anything about this system, it is that it is unpredictable.  It is also designed to have many safety valves to make sure that even if you made a mistake you can still get your children back.  No matter how far along you are in the juvenile dependency system, there is always a chance.  You have the right to file Welfare and Institutions Code Section 388 petition to change a previous court order.  You have the right to ask for permanent planning hearing to be continued because you have not received reasonable services (lack of visits, for example).

 

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