Saturday, July 20, 2013

Inside Tips for Achieving Success in Your Case

What you need to do to achieve success in your case:

I have discussed the difficulty of the DCPP process and the variety of motions that parents involved in DCPP litigation experience a variety of emotions. Often these emotions include anger directed at the Division, as represented by the case worker.   But there is no benefit from being angry, because if it is misdirected at DCPP, parents can harm their case. 
Other emotions can include desperation and a feeling of helplessness.  No situation is desperate. As long as the client focuses on the necessary services, the attorney can present your case in a favorable light and can help you.  However, the outcome of your case will ultimately depend on what you do or fail to do for yourself and for your child.   In my years of experience I can there are very specific ways you can help or hurt your case.  I've listed them below.  I can't say that your case will go well if you do all of these things, but I can tell you to expect a bad result if you don't.  I think that these  tips that can benefit every client whether your child is out of your home or is living with you under court supervision.
  • Comply with all court ordered evaluations and services even if you do not agree with them.  Remember your goal is to get you child back, and get your litigation dismissed.  If you think the services are not helping, your attorney can raise the issue.
  • Do not use alcohol or illegal drugs!  If you have a problem, you need to address it.  Nothing good ever happened to anyone because they used illegal drugs.  Even if you do not think you have a problem with alcohol, the fact that DCPP is in your life should be a reason to stop.  DCPP can assist clients in getting treatment when necessary, but it is up to the parent to follow through.   At the very least, you may need to attend AA/NA and you may be ordered to do so.  If so keep all your meeting slips and show the worker.  You may also be ordered to attend an outpatient, intensive outpatient, or in some cases, inpatient treatment.  
  • Do not allow anyone with a criminal, drug or DCPP history to live with you!  If single, do not initiate a new romantic relationship.  If your significant other has a criminal, drug, or DCPP history, it can harm your case even if you are compliant.   I tell clients that I don’t like to tell anyone what to do with their personal lives and relationships.  But no relationship with any partner can take priority over the one you have with your children.
  • Never miss a required court appearance, evaluations, therapeutic appointments, or visit with your child!   Your child wants to see you, and will be upset if the visit is scheduled and missed.  Discuss any transportation issues with your caseworker and attorney. Judges look negatively on clients who fail to appear in court.    Many parents have difficulty juggling multiple obligations while their case is pending.  Talk to your case worker about scheduling appointments, evaluations, and visits around your court schedule.
  • Maintain a proper appearance.  Always bathe or shower before attending court and dress appropriately.  If an outfit is inappropriate for a house of worship, it is not suitable for court either.  You won't be going to court that often, so just one or two "good outfits" are necessary.  This should be obvious, but remember, in most cases the judge will only be seeing you for a few minutes every few months while your case is going on, and it does not take much time to make a good (or bad) impression by the way you look.
  • It is also very important to keep your child clean, especially when DCPP is supervising your parenting.  If DCPP sees that your child is dirty, they will note that in their records.   In extreme cases, DCPP might remove a child for neglect if they find serious hygiene issues.  Babies and toddlers should be bathed as often as needed.   Once your child is old enough for school, you should clean him/her every day (even if he/she does not appear dirty).  Teachers do call DCPP if they see a child is dirty. Teach your older child to clean him/herself and ensure that he/she does so every day (no exceptions).  It is better to be strict when your child is young because he/she will need more hygiene by the teenage years.  Teach your child proper habits early in order to avoid battles over hygiene when your child becomes a pre-teen.   I have had cases involving adolescents who refused to bathe.
  • Also make sure your living space is clean and uncluttered.  Caseworkers will make announced and unannounced visits to your home.  I recommend that DCPP clients do not keep pets in the home, especially cats.   People like to have pets, but do not choose your pet over your child.  If the DCPP considers the presence of a pet to be a problem in the home, make another arrangement for the pet.  Many caseworkers have claimed that the parent's home smelled from the presence of cats. 
  • On a similar note, if you must smoke, smoke outdoors only.  Keep your home clear of cigarette smoke.  Do you really want DCPP to record that they detected an odor of tobacco in your home, on your child - or you?  Remember, DCPP wants to see a home that is suitable for your child to live, so present it that way.
  • If your child is with you, and you used physical discipline in the past, please refrain from doing so.  There are other methods to discipline children.  If your child's behavior is a problem it is best to address it therapeutically.
  • Never use abusive language or obscenity to a caseworker, or anyone connected with the case (including your attorney!)  First of all your attorney is trying to help you.  You may think you are letting off steam, but you are creating a negative impression.  I have told clients, "If you are talking to the caseworker the way you are talking this way to me, you may be causing a problem with your case."  It is good to get out of the habit of using that language, even though you may be frustrated with the case.   It's OK to be frustrated.  If you must use that language to vent, do it in private.  When in public, don't use any language that you wouldn't hear on free network television!
  • Although you should always be courteous with the caseworker, it is not appropriate for the caseworker to discuss legal issues relating to your case.  Those issues should be discussed through attorneys.  It is OK to politely tell he caseworker not to discuss these issues, especially if the worker is seeking an admission of abuse or neglect, or is attempting to advise you regarding permanency or the possibility of termination of parental rights.  It is also OK to say to a caseworker that you wish for your attorney to review a document before signing it.  I tell my clients that I am always willing to do so.   In short, it is best to be cooperative - but let your attorney take the hits for you.  It is better for DCPP to see the attorney as "adversarial," not you.
  • Make a journal documenting all your phone calls (attempted or completed) with case workers and service providers, and keep a calendar of court dates, visits, and all appointments for services.
I know all of these tips may require you to make changes in your life and to do things in a way you did not do, or did not want to do before.  I understand if some of them may even sound condescending in a way.   Believe me, I don't want to tell you what to do in your home, who you should live with, or how to raise your child, or how to properly express your legitimate feelings about the situation.   But would you rather listen to someone who is on your side, or have DCPP raise these issues with you?  The fact is whether you like it or not, the Division has become involved in with your family and your goal is to get it out of your life.  But the fact is that once you are involved in the DCPP system, the people involved with your case will inevitably have certain negative ideas about you and your family. You need to go out of your way to erase these negative impressions  because you want DCPP to tell the Judge that your child can come home and/or that you can parent without court supervision.

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