DFCS Online Policies & Procedures

  DFCS Online Policies & Procedures

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Handbook 21: Supervision Guides
21-1 Communicating with Families about Reunification and Parents' Right to Associate
Supervision Guides
21-1 Communicating with Families about Reunification and Parents' Right to Associate
Reference Points
Overview
Communication Regarding the Social Worker's Authority
Assessing Risk
Discussing a Parent's Right to Associate


Reference Points
Effective Date: 12/1/07
Last Updated: 4/24/07


Overview   Social workers act on behalf of the Department of Family and Children's Services (DFCS) when they interact with children and families under DFCS supervision.  In their interactions, social workers take on many roles with clients, including that of advocate, evaluator, educator and investigator.  In court cases, they serve as the eyes and ears of the court.  With these responsibilities comes the need to understand the boundaries of the social worker role.  When a social worker assists parents in understanding the extent and limits of that role, it is a step in the development of a mutually respectful working relationship.  Particularly in court cases, having parents understand the parameters of the social worker's authority helps clients understand that it is the client's choices and actions, not the social worker's authority, that determines the outcome of the Court's decisions.
 
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Communication Regarding Social Worker's Authority  

When it comes to discussing with a parent the social worker's influence upon dependency hearing outcomes, social workers should remember that:

  • Social workers have the authority to make recommendations, but only the court has the authority to make ultimate decisions and court orders.
     
  • Social workers should never say or imply to a parent that the social worker has the power to determine whether the parent will reunify with their child.
  • Social workers should never say or imply that the parent will only get his/her child back if the parent complies with certain services.
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  • A parent may be told by the social worker that the juvenile court will make the ultimate decision about reunification and that the court's decision is based, in part, on the social worker's recommendation as well as any evidence the parent presents in court.
  • A parent may be told by the social worker that the parent will have the opportunity to challenge any of the social worker's recommendations in court.
  • If a letter from the social worker to the parent concerning poor progress with case plan activities or compliance with court orders includes any type of caution with a negative consequence, the letter must be reviewed by the social work supervisor and Social Services Program Manager (SSPM).
    • The supervisor must keep the SSPM informed of any such letters being sent.

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Assessing Risk  

When assessing the risk to a child in the context of returning the child to the care of the parent(s), the social worker should remember that:

  • There are many factors which must be considered when assessing risk to a child.
    • Family strengths are also considered in an overall risk assessment.
  • Risk to a child must be carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis.
  • In most cases a single act or omission by a parent does not determine the Department's recommendation to the court.

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Discussing a Parent's Right to Associate  

When talking to a parent about people with whom they associate, the social worker should remember that:

  • Social workers do not have the power to control with whom a parent can associate.

  • Social workers should not tell a parent that the parent may not contact or associate with particular persons, unless there is a court order which specifically says that the parent may not associate with that person.
    • Parents have a constitutional right to free association.
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  • A court order stating that a child shall have no contact with a particular adult does not mean that the child's parents cannot have contact with that adult.
     
  • Social workers should never say or imply to a parent that reunification with his/her child is contingent upon the parent's separating from or divorcing his/her partner.
  • A parent may be told by the social worker that the court will consider who else is living in the parent's home when deciding whether it is safe to return the child to the parent.

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