The Los Angeles Department of Children and Families Speaks on Foster Care, Adoption and Reunification pb

“REUNIFICATION IS THE MOST LIKELY OUTCOME”

by Sharon Rondeau

The spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Children and Families told The Post & Email recently, as he did two years ago, that reunification of families is the department’s primary goal.

(Jul. 17, 2014) — Several weeks ago, The Post & Email interviewed Erica Henderson, the mother of eight whose children have all been placed in foster care and six of whom are scheduled to be adopted.

Mrs. Henderson and her husband Jeffrey, who she is in the process of divorcing, have related to The Post & Email that they have made every effort to comply with all of the demands placed on them by the Los Angeles Department of Children and Families (DCFS).  Both parents told us that juvenile court judges had urged them to divorce with the understanding that if they did so, Erica might regain custody of the children.

After their separation, Jeffrey began attending law school, where he is reportedly doing well.

That has not occurred, and social workers for the children have asked that her visitation time be reduced and eliminated in the case of one child, citing emotional problems exhibited by the children after visits.

Mrs. Henderson agreed that the children are visibly upset after they visit with her.  She described their time together as “beautiful,” although difficult, as she said that the children ask why they cannot be a family again.

More coverage on the Henderson case can be found here dating back to September 2012, at which time the Henderson’s then-infant was taken from her arms during an unmonitored visit with all of the children.  A subsequent infant was also taken from her at the age of approximately seven weeks after she went directly to a domestic violence shelter as instructed by the department, and that child is now nearly a year old.

After publication, we emailed the article to Mr. Armand Montiel, Public Affairs Director for DCFS, attaching the “388” form in which it is reported by DCFS social workers that the children are emotionally unstable.  With the understanding that he cannot divulge whether or not a specific family or individual is receiving DCFS services, we asked for his responses in general to several questions.

The Post & Email’s initial interview of Montiel is here.

References to “Gabriel” are to Gabriel Fernandez, an eight-year-old Palmdale, CA boy who was allegedly tortured and killed by his biological mother and male companion last year after multiple calls to the department did not result in his removal.  Gabriel had been living in his grandfather’s home until several months before his death, when he was returned to his mother for unspecified reasons.  The couple has been charged with capital murder.

Hi Sharon,

It’s good to hear from you again, although I wish it was under more positive circumstances.

As you know, I cannot comment on any specific family matter, but I can provide general comments that you might find helpful.

The parents and their attorney will have an opportunity to respond to the 388 petition request.  In fact, if the parents disagree with a court order, they could also file a 388 petition and request a change of order.

The court scrutinizes these requests and hears from the children’s attorney and the parents’ attorney, and the County’s attorney, before ruling on a petition.

The very objections you raise are the ones that will be considered by the hearing officer if they are raised by the parents.

I apologize if this response is not satisfactory.

Please let me know if there is any other information I could provide.

Armand

Armand Montiel
Public Affairs Director
Department of Children and Family Services
425 Shatto Place, Room 600
Los Angeles, CA 90020
Phone: (213) 351-5779
Fax: (213) 738-9257

amontiel@dcfs.lacounty.gov

We then replied with some questions and links to articles pertaining to children in and out of foster care in the greater Los Angeles area:

Thank you for your response, Mr. Montiel.

I would hope that assuming the parents respond with an objection to the 388 filed by the Department that the judge considers all of the facts as to whether or not the children will be better off for the rest of their lives being raised by people other than their biological parents or if, in fact, the emotional problems these children, or any children, are experiencing are caused by the separation they have had to endure.  Many children taken away from their natural parents unjustly become runaways, are abused in foster care, become victims of human trafficking, or, tragically, are found dead somewhere.  This is not speculation or rumination:

http://www.ejournalncrp.org/human-trafficking-foster-children-in-l-a/

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-dcfs-firing-20140510-story.html

http://www.fixcas.com/scholar/fatal.htm

http://www.caichildlaw.org/Misc/2003_2ndPlace2.pdf

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-foster-care-dto-htmlstory.html

http://culture.squidoo.com/fightcps

http://protectingourchildrenfrombeingsold.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/these-children-were-protected-to-death-after-being-stolen-for-profit-by-cps/

http://ladcfs-sucks.blogspot.com/

Other cases are mishandled, according to Fox News 11:

http://www.myfoxla.com/story/21420842/lost-in-the-system-custody-fight

Of course, in the case of Gabriel Fernandez, he should have been, and reportedly was, taken away from his mother for safety reasons.  The mistake was returning him to a highly volatile situation and failing to follow up on reports of battery and other abuses which tragically ended his short life.

I realize it must be supremely difficult to find the right balance in every case as to whether to return the children to their natural parents or keep them in foster care, but I wonder how much of a part money plays in taking children away from their biological parents…

Thank you very much for answering the questions presented here which are general in nature.

Sharon Rondeau, Editor
www.thepostemail.com
P.O. Box 195
Stafford Springs, CT  06076

On Wednesday, Montiel provided the following responses to our questions:

Hi Sharon,

I reviewed the links you provided.  Some connect to pages that are no longer active.  Most of the criticisms mentioned in these sites are familiar to dependency courts, attorneys, child welfare managers and social workers.

I imagine that the current court protocols used in California have been set up to safe guard against the wrongdoings mentioned in the web sites.  In Los Angeles County I have never seen or heard of a judge or hearing officer that has a bias favoring DCFS and against a child or parent.  In our courts, the hearing officers are dedicated to ensuring the rights of parents and children are protected and upheld.  As you mentioned regarding the case of Gabriel, our strongest criticisms have usually resulted from our failure to take action to remove a child from a parent’s home.  Some have proposed that Gabriel’s death resulted in our Department instituting practices to detain more children, but that is not the case.  In the wake of Gabriel’s tragic death, we received more child abuse and neglect referrals from the community but it was shown that we continued to detain children from their parents at the same low rate.

Following are my responses to your questions:

Question: Since the court will not correspond with me, I can obtain only the parents’ side in the particular case I have been following, but I ask why parents who have worked so hard to comply with everything the Department has demanded cannot have a chance of reunification.  Is adoption really necessary in this case and many others?

Response:  By law, the court gives priority to reunifying children with their families.  In fact, reunification is the most likely outcome for children in foster care.  We reunify about 6,000 children per year with their parents, compared to about 1,200 children who are adopted each year.

Question: Is it possible that the children in this case were placed onto a conveyor-belt of sorts, with the clock ticking, as Mrs. Henderson said, and no matter what she did to show her ability to care for them, it didn’t matter?

Response: Without commenting on any specific case, I don’t believe what you have posed is possible, at least not in Los Angeles County.

Question: Is adoption the final goal with foster children?
Response: Adoption is the goal for all foster children who cannot safely return to their biological parents now or in a reasonable time in the future as established by law and the courts. But, as mentioned, California law gives primary consideration to reunification; it is only after reunification efforts have failed or are not possible that the court orders adoption services.

Question: Also, in general, when anonymous people online make an allegation, is that something the Department must investigate?
Response: We investigate anonymous allegations when the allegation meets legal criteria for investigation.  The law allows reporters to remain anonymous, but the reports must be made via a phone call to our Hotline, not online.
 
Question: How credible or well-sourced does an allegation of potential danger, abuse or neglect have to be in order to be acted upon or ignored? 
Response: Basically, a report of suspected abuse must meet our criteria, meaning that actual abuse or neglect at the hands of the child’s legal caregiver (usually a parent) must be alleged.  We would need to have sufficient information to conduct an investigation (such as the address or location of the child and the child’s name or description; the more information the better).  A report of suspected abuse is not given credence based on the fact that a report was made, rather a report can only be substantiated after a thorough investigation.  
 
Question: Before an adoption is finalized, are the children interviewed, asked their feelings about it, and a psychological evaluation done?
Response: Age-appropriate interviews are conducted and their statements are included in the Department’s report.  The child’s attorney may also interview the child separately.  Most children appear in court and are often asked questions directly from the hearing officer.  Whether a psychological evaluation is conducted would depend on the particular needs of the child and the court-ordered case plan.
 
I hope this helps.  Please let me know if you post an article using this information.
Thank you,
Armand
 
 
 
Armand Montiel
Public Affairs Director
Department of Children and Family Services
425 Shatto Place, Room 600
Los Angeles, CA 90020

Phone: (213) 351-5779

Fax: (213) 738-9257

amontiel@dcfs.lacounty.gov

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