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Handbook 6: Out-of-Home Placements and Services
6-2  Voluntary Family Reunification (VFR)

 

Out-of-Home Placements and Services
6-2  Voluntary Family Reunification (VFR)
Reference Points
Overview
Situations in which Voluntary Family Reunification Services Are Offered
Placement Options for Voluntary Family Reunification
Steps Prior to Offering VFR Services
DFCS Criteria for Offering VFR Services
Relatives as VFR Placements
Parents' Rights Under VFR
Substitute Caregivers' Rights Under VFR
Procedures for Opening a VFR Case
Parent Withdraws from a VFR Agreement
Case Plans for VFR Cases
Voluntary Family Reunification Timelines and Outcomes
Non-Compliance with or Failed VFR
Other References


Reference Points
Effective Date: 10/1/07
Last Updated: 8/20/2014
 Legal Basis:
Popup Window California Department of Social Services (CDSS) Manual of Policies and Procedures (MPP) Division 31-430
Popup Window California Department of Social Services (CDSS) All County Information Notice (ACIN) 1-74-09: Voluntary Placement Agreements and Welfare and Institutions Code Section 16507.6
Popup Window WIC § 11400 (n)(o)(1)(2)
Popup Window WIC § 16501.1 (c)
Popup Window WIC § 16507.2 through 16507.6
 Non CWS/CMS Forms:
MS Word Voluntary Family Reunification Agreeement (SCZ1381)
PDF Voluntary Placement Agreement (SOC 155)
MS Word Child Support--Good Cause Claim for Noncooperation (CW51)
bullet

SOC-815-817-818 Combined (Relative Home Approval)

MS Word SOC-815-817-818 Combined / English

MS Word SOC-815-817-817 Combined /Spanish - 817-818

MS Word SOC-815-817-818 Combined/ Vietnamese - Caregiver Acknowledgement and Agreement

    PDF Caregiver Declaration and Agreement - Vietnamese (SOC 818)

MS Word Placement/Address Change (SCZ 17 Auto)
 CWS/CMS Forms:
MS Word CAT Emergency Response Assessment Tool
MS Word CAT Placement Assessment Tool
MS Word CAT Continuing Services Assessment Tool
bullet Services Management Section: Contact Notebook


Overview  

When a social worker determines that a family's circumstances are such that 1) a child cannot be safely maintained in the family home and 2) the parents are willing to accept voluntary placement for the child and sign a voluntary placement agreement, the child may be placed in out-of-home care for a period not to exceed 180 days under the program of Voluntary Family Reunification (VFR).  Voluntary placement also refers to those placements made by parents with the intention of relinquishing their parental rights. The Welfare and Institutions Code defines a voluntary placement as an out-of-home placement of a child by (1) the county welfare department after the parents or legal guardians have requested the assistance of the county welfare department and have signed a voluntary placement agreement or (2) the county welfare department licensed public or private adoption agency, or the department acting as an adoption agency for thepurpose of adoption planning(WIC § 11400 [n][o][1 [2])           


VFR is a time limited service that enables a child and his or her family to utilize out-of-home care services without the involvement of the juvenile court. The VFR program encourages family decision-making by allowing the family to determine the need for out-of-home care and participate in the development of a case plan, including the appropriate time for the child’s return home, if that is the ultimate goal. 

Policies and procedures involving the relinquishment of parental rights are not addressed in this OPP chapter.

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Situations in which VFR Services are Offered  

Voluntary Family Reunification services may be offered in two kinds of situations. 

  • When parents place a child at Bill Wilson Center and DFCS becomes involved to monitor the situation.

  • When a child is removed from his or her parents' care and, subsequently, the social worker assesses that VFR services could resolve the situation, eliminating the need to file a petition on behalf of the child at that time.

During the course of Informal Supervision or Voluntary Family Maintenance services, arrangements may be made for one of the children to reside voluntarily in an out-of-home placement.  This could happen, for example, in a family with siblings where one of the siblings is a teenager and the teen and parents could benefit from a brief respite from each other.   This situation is not considered Voluntary Family Reunification.  Rather, it is considered Informal Supervision or Voluntary Family Maintenance (whichever program under which the family is receiving services) with a voluntary placement.   See OPP Chapter 5-3: Voluntary Family Maintenance or OPP Chapter 5-6: Informal Supervision Services.

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Placement Options for Voluntary Family Reunification  

Responsibility for placement and care of a minor receiving Voluntary Family Reunification services is with the social worker who may place the child in:

  • The approved home of a relative or non-relative extended family member (NREFM)

  • A suitable licensed community care facility

  • A foster family agency (FFA) certified home

  • A home or facility in accordance with the federal indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
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Steps Prior to Offering VFR Services  

In determining whether VFR services may be offered to a family, the social worker:

  • Completes the CAT Emergency Response Assessment tool.

  • Completes a criminal records check of the parents/guardians to assist in the assessment of the parents/guardians.

  • Ensures that no coercive methods are used to get the family to agree to the placement of the child in out-of-home care.
  • Schedules a Team Decision Making Meeting (TDM), if the child has been placed in temporary custody and is being released to a VFR placement or if the family has been receiving Informal Supervision or Voluntary Family Maintenance services at the time the decision is made to arrange a VFR placement.
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DFCS Criteria for Offering VFR Services  

Criteria for offering VFR services, specific to the Department of Family and Children's Services (DFCS) include that :

  • The child is not presently a dependent of the Juvenile Court.
     
  • Preplacement preventive services have been offered to the family.
    • Prior to entering into a voluntary placement agreement with a parent or guardian, the social worker shall make every attempt to keep the family together by offering appropriate child welfare services except in the case of a voluntary placement pending relinquishment.  (WIC § 16507.2)
    • The social worker is required to provide and document in a CWS/CMS Contact the preplacement preventive services and reasonable efforts that were offered to prevent out-of-home placement and why those services were not successful in maintaining the non-dependent child with his or her family.

  • There is a mutual decision between the child's parent or guardian and DFCS for the need for out-of-home care and the reason(s) for the placement.

  • The parents/guardians are unable to arrange resources necessary for the care, supervision, and protection of the child without VFR services.
  • There is a signed Voluntary Placement Agreement (SOC155) between DFCS and the parent or guardian specifying the terms of the voluntary placement.
     
  • The parents/guardians are willing and able to cooperate in the case plan for voluntary placement.

  • There is reason to believe that the case plan goals can be achieved within six months of the date of placement.
    • If after four months of services, the social worker determines that case plan goals will not be achieved within the following two months, the social worker must schedule a joint case staffing to discuss options for the case.  It is critical that the staffing occur in a timeframe that allows for the filing of a 300 petition, if applicable, within the six months allowed for VFR services.  VFR services cannot be extended beyond 180 days without loss of funding.
     
  • Consulation with the bureau SSPM for approval of VFR services has occurred, If the problem for which the child is being placed is one for which the child or the child’s siblings were previously made dependents of the court within the two previous years.
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Relatives As VFR Placements   Relatives are an option for VFR placements, when child welfare services are requested by the family and determined to be necessary and appropriate. Relative homes must be approved prior to placement, and funding cannot begin until the home is fully approved.  If placed in a relative home, a determination is made as to whether the child is eligible to receive foster care payments, and, if eligible, the relative is contacted and asked to select between receiving AFDC-FC or CalWORKs funding.

The social worker should consider whether child welfare services under the VFR program are necessary, when there is a relative willing and suitable to care for the child. If there appears no need for DFCS monitoring of the situation, the social worker has the option of returning the child to the parent with the understanding that the parent will place the child with a relative with appropriate authorizations for medical treatment and educational decisions. The referral may be closed with no further child welfare services. The relative may be advised to apply for CalWORKs funding for the child at one of the county Department of Employment and Benefits Services (DEBS) offices.

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Parents' Rights Under VFR Services  
  • When a child is placed voluntarily, the parents or guardians have the right to know the whereabouts of the child. Therefore, if a parent or guardian is known to be violent or may present a danger to the child or the substitute caregivers, voluntary placement is not appropriate.

  • The parents of voluntarily placed children retain legal custody of the child, even though the parent voluntarily places the child with the agency.  The parent may limit by written agreement the scope of the out-of-home caregiver’s authority to give parental consent.

  • The parents of voluntarily placed children have the right to unsupervised visitation. 

  • The family receives the same level of services as it would if the case were under court supervision.


  • A parent may request to withdraw from the Voluntary Family Reunification Agreement at any time. 

 

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Parent Withdraws from a VFR Agreement  

Parents may withdraw their agreement to participate in voluntary services, at any time. If a parent contacts the Department to request that his/her child, who is voluntarily placed in out-of-home care, be returned to the parent's care, the social worker must respond immediately to the request and return the child to the parent or make an immediate determination that the return home would put the child at risk and take steps to place the child in temporary custody as outlined below. If the social worker is not available, the supervisor or on-duty (OD) social worker responds immediately to the request.  The Department may not keep a child in out-of-home care without the parents' ongoing consent or a court order.

If a social worker is concerned about the well-being of a voluntarily placed child for whom the parent is requesting a return home or a child who was placed voluntarily and has been returned to a parent at the parent's request, the worker may request an immediate Joint Case Staffing to assess the case.  To bring the child into temporary custody in most cases will require a protective custody warrant. If the social worker believes the child is a person described by section 300(b) or 300(g) and is in immediate danger of physical or sexual abuse or the child's home environment poses an immediate threat to the child's health or safety (i.e., exigent circumstances), and there is no time to obtain a protective custody warrant, then the social worker may place the child into temporary custody under section 306 and initiate juvenile court action.

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Substitute Caregivers' Rights Under VFR  

Foster parents, relatives, or non-relative extended family members (NREFMs) are given the parents' phone number(s) or means to contact the parents in case of an emergency.  The social worker must provide the caregiver with the worker's office phone number and 24/7 number of the Child Abuse and Neglect Center (CANC) (299-2071).

The assigned social worker is required to provide substitute caregivers the following services:

  • Required monthly contact.
  • Support and collaboration as necessary, e.g. visitation, case plan activities for the child.
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Procedures for Opening a VFR Case  

For voluntary short-term placements at Bill Wilson:

See OPP Chapter 6-1: Bill Wilson: Voluntary Placements.

To open a Voluntary Family Reunification Case in which the child is to be placed in a relative or foster family home, the Emergency Response (ER) or Dependent Intake (DI) social worker:

  • Discusses the VFR program with the parents and child.

  • Assists the parent(s)/guardian(s) of the voluntarily placed child(ren) to understand that he/she:
    • Still retains legal custody of the child even though he/she voluntarily places the child with the agency and
    • May limit by written agreement the scope of the foster parent's authority to give parental consent.

  • Determines with the parents and child the services in which the parents and/or child will participate and the services to be provided by the social worker.
    • For best practice, limit the goals for the parents to two or three services to keep the possibility of accomplishment realistic.

 

  • Completes the Voluntary Family Reunification Agreement (SCZ1381)

 

  • Obtains the parents' signature on:
    • Voluntary Placement Agreement (SOC 155).
    • Voluntary Family Reunification Agreement (SC1381)
    • Medical releases.
    • Emergency Assistance Application (EA1)

  • Completes the Child Support--Good Cause Claim for Noncooperation (CW51).
    • In most cases, the social worker determines that it is not in the child’s best interest to refer the case to child support because it would pose a barrier to reunification.
    • Make a copy of the CW51 and file it in the case file.

  • Ensures that the computation of the share of costs is completed pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code Section 16507.4(a).
    • Share of cost is related to Medi-cal reimbursements.  Social workers may call the foster care eligibility bureau (408-271-7401) to check if the parents will have a share of cost for medical appointments.

  • Reviews the Child's Rights with the child and parents.

  • Completes the CAT Placement Assessment Tool.

  • Completes the Relative Home Approval, if the child is being placed with a relative or non-relative extended family member.

  • Obtains signed Placement Agreements from the substitute caregiver:
    • The relative signs the Relative-Agency Agreement (SOC 156R), if placing with a relative.
    • Foster parents sign the Foster Care-Agency Agreement (SOC 156), if placing in a foster home.

  • Documents all contacts in the CWS/CMS Contact Notebook.

 

  • Completes the Placement/Address Change (SCZ 17).
    • Select the appropriate scenario under Section D.
    • Submit the SCZ 17 to the PTT.

  • Completes the Dependent Intake Case Assignment Control Sheet (blue sheet).

  • Prepares the case in CWS/CMS to the point of "Pending Approval" status for case opening.

  • Submits the case file to the supervisor for final approval in CWS/CMS.
    • The supervisor transfers the case to the Dependent Intake Control Clerk (DICC) for assignment to the receiving social worker.
  • Sends to the PAC eligibility worker:
    • A copy of the Voluntary Placement Agreement (SOC155).
    • The Emergency Assistance application.
      • Payment cannot be made for longer than 180 days of the child’s placement for federal or state AFDC-FC, unless the a court orders continued VFR at an Initial Petition Hearing.
    • Child Support--Good Cause Claim for Noncooperation (CW51)
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Case Plans for VFR Cases  

A case plan for Voluntary Family Reunification services must be developed within 30 days of the date of the first face-to-face contact made with the child by any DFCS social worker (for referrals) or 30 days from the date of service program change (e.g. child moves from VFM to VFR services).  Parents are to participate in the development of the case plan and are to review and sign the case plan.  VFR cases are assigned to the Informal Supervision (IS) Unit and Continuing social workers for ongoing services. 

  • A CAT Continuing Services Assessment Tool is completed prior to the development of the Case Plan.
  • If the VFR case is assigned in CWS/CMS to the receiving social worker within 15 days of the initial face-to-face contact made with the child by any DFCS social worker or the date of service program change, the receiving social worker is responsible for the case plan.
  • If the VFR case is not assigned in CWS/CMS to the receiving social worker within 15 days of the initial face-to-face contact made with the child by any DFCS social worker or the date of service program change, the referring social worker is responsible for completing the case plan and for making the face-to-face contacts with the child within the first 30 days as required by Division 31 Regulations.
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VFR

Timelines and Outcomes

 

Ongoing case management services for Voluntary Family Reunification (VFR) cases are provided by Informal Supervision (IS) and Continuing social workers.  The IS/Continuing social worker completes the CWS/CMS case plan with the family.   The family receives the same level of services as provided under the court-ordered Family Reunification program.  Voluntary Family Reunification services can only be provided for 180 days, and the substitute caregiver will not receive financial aid after 180 days, unless:

  • The court orders family reunification services at an Initial Petition Hearing held prior to the end of the 180 days of VFR services, or
  • VFR services are converted to permanency planning services, in the event that the parents sign voluntary relinquishments.


During the fourth (4th) month of VFR services, the social worker assesses the family to determine whether:

  • The prognosis is that the issues that brought the family to the attention of the child welfare system will be resolved by the end of the 180 days VFR period and the case closed or the family offered continued services under the Voluntary Family Maintenance program.
    • Approval to continue services under VFM requires SSPM approval.

  • to schedule a Joint Case Staffing decide if:
    • A 300 Out-of-Custody Petition should be filed on behalf of the child and the child be returned to the parents with continued court monitoring.
      • The petition must be filed in time to allow the Initial Petition hearing to occur prior to the expiration of the 180 day VFR period.  Social workers may need to assess whether to take a VFR case for staffing by the 4th month (rather than wait until the 5th month) of VFR services as it sometimes takes several weeks to secure a staffing slot.

    • The child should be placed in temporary custody and a 300 Petition be filed.
      • This option may require a Protective Custody Warrant.
      • The petition must be filed in time to allow the Initial Petition Hearing to occur prior to the expiration of the 180 day VFR period.  Social workers may need to assess whether to take a VFR case for staffing by the 4th month (rather than wait until the 5th month) of VFR services as it sometimes takes several weeks to secure a staffing slot.
      • If it is decided that a petition is to be filed, the case transfers to Dependent Intake.

 

By the fifth (5th) month into VFR services, if a staffing has not been initiated regarding the removal of the child from the parents' care or the filing of an out-of-custody petition, the social worker assesses the family to determine whether:

  • The child will be returned to the parents at the end of the 180 day VFR period and the case closed.
  • The child will be returned to the care of the parents at the end of the 180 day period and the family receive Voluntary Family Maintenance services.
    • Approval by the SSPM is required.
  • The parents are not able or willing to have the child returned to their care and are willing to sign a voluntary relinquishment and begin adoption planning services for the child.
    • Contact the DFCS Adoption Finalization Supervisor if a parent requests to voluntarily relinquish parental rights.
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Non-Compliance with or Failed VFR  

Social workers carrying VFR cases are required to schedule a Joint Case Staffing when the parent(s):

  • Does not begin complying with the service plan within the first 30 days.
  • Ceases to comply with services at any time during the service period.
  • Will not be completing the agreed upon services within the six months of VFR services.
    • The staffing must be held by the 5th month of service to allow the social worker time to carry out any possible recommendation by the staffing committee.

If, at any point in the service period, the parents' failure to comply with services results in a heightened risk to the child, the social worker has the option of:

  • Requesting a Joint Case Staffing to discuss the possibility of requesting a protective custody warrant for removal of the child from the care of the parents.
  • Placing the child in temporary custody, if there is immediate danger to the child.
    • Placing the child in temporary custody requires law enforcement assistance
    • If there is not exigent circumstances to warrant the removal of the child, a protective custody warrant is required for removal.

If at any point the parents request to waive their parental rights through a voluntary relinquishment, the social worker consults with the Adoption Finalization social work supervisor.

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Other References  
bullet2 OPP Chapter 13-1: Joint Case Staffing
bullet2 OPP Chapter 7-2: Relative Home Approval
bullet2 OPP Chapter 6-1: Bill Wilson Voluntary Placements
bullet2 OPP Chapter 13-5: Protective Custody Warrant
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