When a child is removed or detained by the county social services agency, the county agency has certain legal obligations to identify and notify relatives (including siblings) of the child’s removal. The county agency also has a legal obligation to assess those relatives and/or non-relative extended family members (NREFMs) for placement.
In addition to the county agency’s legal obligations, the juvenile dependency court has the obligation to make certain inquiries and findings at the detention and disposition hearings related to the child’s placement.
This article will provide additional guidance to relatives and/or non-relative extended family members, regarding what they can do when a child is removed.
Understanding the Situation
So, a family member or a friend of yours has had their child(ren) removed. Your first thought is, “Help, they took my niece or grandson, what can I do?”
Do not panic. Unfortunately, this is a question we hear more than we would like to. There are times in which children need to be removed from homes. In most cases, this removal may be temporary, while there is an ongoing investigation.
So, if everything turns out to be a misunderstanding, the child is likely to be reunified with his or her parents soon. And if the concern or complaint is confirmed, then you are able to continue caring for the child(ren).
As a relative of the child or a non-relative extended family member (NREFM), you have the right to ask, or the county may ask you, to care for a family member’s child because of emergency situations.
Therefore, you should call the county social services agency of the county where the children were removed and inform the county of your interest to step forward as a relative or non-relative for emergency placement.
Request placement of child on an “emergency basis” or for a “compelling reason”
Once a relative or NREFM learns that a child has been removed by child welfare services, that relative or NREFM can apply to be a resource family and request the County place the child in the “applicant’s” home pending resource family approval.
Remember, always take down names and contact information of everyone you speak with over the phone or in person. You don’t want your request to go unfilled or not be processed appropriately.
Apply for Resource Family Approval
Although not technically mandatory at this early stage, in practice, relatives or NRFEM who have initiated the application for Resource Family Approval have a preference or priority.
Start the application immediately so that when you call the county, you are able to confirm that you have applied for Resource Family Approval and that the foster family agency is assisting you.
Ideally, your application for Resource Family Approval, should happen within the first 24 hours of removal because it is during this time that the county representatives are having to make decisions as to placement for the child.
Criminal Record Review
When you inform the county of your interest, a quick results criminal records check will be completed for every adult living in the home through the California Law Enforcement Tracking System (CLETS) database, after that is complete, live scan fingerprinting must occur within five days of the placement.
If the CLETS checks shows any criminal conviction for any adult in the home, a child cannot be placed on an emergency unless the conviction is eligible for an exemption. Arrest do not require an exemption but they might be cause for delay in placement until more information is gathered.
Check for Prior Child Abuse or Neglect
Additionally, all adults living in the home will be searched on the Child Abuse Central Index (CACI). The social worker and/ or the court might decide not to make an emergency placement if the CACI report raises any child safety concerns
For placement on an emergency basis or for a compelling reason the County still must complete a background check criminal and Child Abuse Central Index.
If applying through the County or through the FFA, they will complete the health and safety assessment of the home and grounds, and complete a comprehensive assessment of an applicant and prepare a written report within 90 calendar days of the date the child or nonminor dependent was temporarily place with the relative or NRFEM unless “good cause” exist (for not doing so within 90 days).
If the County social services agency has not reached out to you or is not appropriately considering a relative or NRFEM, you may use the Relative Information Form (JV 285) to let the court know that a relative or NRFEM is interested in caring for the child.
Request A State Hearing if Denied Assessment or Approval
A relative or nonrelative extended family member who seeks assessment and approval to provide care to independent minor or nonminor dependent who experiences an adverse decision (i.e. a denial must be provided with a state hearing). This includes persons who are denied assessment due to lack of standing as a NREFM.
Participate in Dependency Hearing
The juvenile court must control all juvenile dependency proceedings by quickly and effectively ascertaining the traditional facts and all information relevant to the present condition of and welfare of the child the court may permit relatives of the child to be present at the hearing and or address the court.
Submit Information about the Child to the Court at any Time Using Form Jv 285
When completing the Relative Information Form (JV-285) be sure to be factual, provide specific information, and remain child-centered, positive and kind. If you need assistance, we can also assist you with this.
You may also want to:
- Attach a photo so the judge can put a beautiful, smiling face to a name and file number.
- Share any concerns or individual needs the child may have.
- If possible, attach letters from doctors, teachers, or other professionals to support your concerns. If you have attachments, be sure to check the box on item 12, indicate the total number of pages attached, and include the date and the case number. Label each attachment page “Attachment to Form JV-285, Date, Case Number.”
- Submit the original Form JV-285 with 8 copies of the form (each form should have a photo on it) to the Juvenile Court Clerk’s Office at least five calendar days before the hearing (or seven days if filing by mail). The County Clerk will then distribute, or “serve” your Form JV-285 to all of the relevant people involved in the case.
- Some clerk offices will copy Form JV-285 for you, but we recommend being prepared with all 8 copies just in case. We can assist you with copies at the office.
- Be sure to keep one copy stamped “filed” by the Clerk, for your records.
File JV-180 To Change Court Order
Any person who has an interest in a dependent child of the juvenile court (including relatives and/or NREFMs) can request a hearing before a judge under Welfare and Institutions Code section 388, which specifically states any parent or “other person” having an interest in a child who is a dependent child of the juvenile court (even when you are not a party and do not qualify for de facto status) may petition the court for a change of court order using a JV-180 form.
You should file a form called the JV-180 Request to Change Court Order for important issues that need to be addressed immediately.
Specifically, the JV-180 is appropriate when
- an immediate hearing is required
- circumstances have changed or there is new evidence that you can offer to the judge
- it is in the child’s best interests to modify a previous order; and/or
- you seek visits, placement, or contact with a dependent sibling in foster care, or on behalf of a child who has a sibling in foster care.
Resource Family Approval (RFA)
Relative caregivers who accept a child into their home on an emergency basis must become proven resource families to remain caregivers for their family member(s). This process must begin within five days of a child being placed in their home.
That is why we previously indicated that it is in your best interest to initiate the RFA application within 24 of the child’s removal or before you call the county to confirm your interest.
When a child must be removed from their home, the county makes every attempt to place children with a family member or a non-related adult close to the child (“non-relative extended family member”) to provide as much stability and familiarity for the child as possible.
Commonly referred to as foster parents, resource families include relatives, extended family members, and non-relatives. Everyone who wants to foster or adopt a child who is a ward or dependent, must complete the RFA process.
By law, public officials are required to do everything to identify a potential relative that is eligible to care for the child, within 24 hours. So, there is a window of time.