Neglect and Abuse
For many parents, the right to care for and raise their children as they see fit is the most important role in their lives. The U.S. Supreme Court has identified a parent’s right to care for his or her child as a fundamental right, and Michigan law protects this right, except when a child’s safety and well-being are at risk.
A neglect and abuse (NA) petition puts those rights in jeopardy. When this happens, parents need experienced legal representation to defend them in order to reunify their families.
Termination of Parental Rights Is a Serious Problem for Michigan Parents
Michigan has terminated the legal rights of more parents than most other states in the country. According to the 2014 data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over 3,600 Michigan children were living in foster care following a Termination of Parental Rights (TRP) proceeding – that’s 1.6 children per 1,000. That same year, Michigan prosecutors filed 2,567 termination petitions, permanently removing 4,215 kids from their parents and placing them in state-supervised foster care homes.
Understanding the CPS Investigation Process
It is up to Child Protective Services (CPS), a program administered by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), to investigate every complaint of neglect and abuse of a child. Upon receiving a complaint, CPS investigates the allegations by interviewing parents, children, school officials, and other interested parties and inspecting the children’s home. CPS then categorizes each case based upon the severity of its findings:
- Category V: No evidence of abuse or neglect found – no services offered
- Category IV: Preponderance of evidence of abuse or neglect not found – voluntary community-based services offered
- Category III: Preponderance of evidence of abuse or neglect found with low or moderate risk to children – referral to mandatory community-based services
- Category II: Preponderance of evidence of abuse or neglect found with high or intensive risk to children – CPS and community-based services required
- Category I: Preponderance of evidence of abuse or neglect found with high initial risk or at reassessment – court petition and CPS and community-based services required
When a court petition is filed, then a neglect and abuse (NA) proceeding ensues. CPS must establish that jurisdiction over the child is appropriate – i.e. that they have the authority to intervene and direct the care for the children. Upon this finding, except in extreme cases, the court must then allow the parents an opportunity to address any problems and be reunited with their children.
Defending Against Neglect and Abuse Petitions
NA cases can often drag on for more than a year. Over that time, parents face many challenges, both with CPS and in court.
Strict mandatory reporting requirements on teachers, doctors, and other professionals typically result in over-reporting, and inexperienced and overworked caseworkers sometimes fail to clearly communicate with parents in a timely manner. But the burdens fall most heavily on stressed and anxious parents threatened with the loss of their children, and the failures of the legal and protective systems provide little cover if parties fail to comply with treatment plans. Successful legal advocacy in such cases often requires the skills of a social worker.
The laws surrounding neglect and abuse proceedings are highly technical and complicated. The law requires different procedures for the court to establish jurisdiction over the children, provide dispositional reviews of parents’ progress, and ultimately reunite families or terminate parental rights.
Throughout the legal process, it is often difficult for parents to obtain reports, records, assessments, and other evidence to be presented at trial. Disparate application of policies and procedures among CPS offices in different counties create more roadblocks for parents and lawyers during the development of a case strategy. Even when the reunification plan is clear, internal dynamics at DHHS, and with community service providers, can make it harder for parents to meet the expectations set for them by DHHS and the court.
For all these reasons and more, successful representation in neglect and abuse cases requires a knowledgeable, persistent, and focused defense.
Contact us to schedule your free consultation with an experienced neglect and abuse attorney who understands the stakes and how emotionally taxing these allegations can be. We will work tirelessly to get you out from under state supervision and reunite you with your children.
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