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“NARROW CONDITIONS” REQUIRED TO PURSUE ADOPTION EARLY ON
by Sharon Rondeau
(Sep. 28, 2016) — On Wednesday night, The Post & Email reached Los Angeles DCFS Public Affairs Director Armand Montiel, who we had interviewed on two occasions in 2014 when we were covering the case of the Henderson family.
Without identifying the family involved or the case number, we related to Montiel that a child for whom a petition had been filed on September 21, 2011 for temporary custody by his maternal grandparents was indicated in a case worker’s November 10, 2011 email to the child’s father as scheduled for “an adoption assessment” in conjunction with reunification services.
In a previous interview, Montiel had stated that reunification with parents is the goal of the agency and that adoption is a last resort.
At the time the email was written, DCFS had found no reason to mandate counseling or other services to the father and had granted him unsupervised visitation with his son.
On November 10, 2011 caseworker Tim Reeff wrote to the father, in part:
…Relatives have priority to adopt. If there has not been substantial progress toward reunification by the beginning of April 2012, the Department will be recommending termination of family reunification at the May 5, 2012 hearing and selection of a permanent plan, which could involve adoption…
Earlier on Wednesday, The Post & Email had contacted Reeff via email:
Hello, Mr. Reeff, I own and operate an online newspaper, The Post & Email, and am currently reporting on case #CK89770 about which you communicated with the father, Mr. Roosevelt Williams of Monroeville, AL on November 10, 2011.
From other documentation Mr. Williams provided to me,I note that the case commenced on September 21, 2011. In your email, you reference “adoption” as something the department was already exploring, even at that early date and without Mr. Williams having been named as abusive, neglectful or unable to meet the needs of his child.
In covering another case several years ago, I interviewed DCFS spokesman Armand Montiel, who indicated that “reunification is the most likely outcome” once a case is opened and a child removed from the home.
He also said that all other options must be exhausted in a manner prescribed by law before adoption can be sought.
Given that, how is it that “adoption” was contemplated so early in this case and before the parents had a chance to even attempt to comply with any court orders?
Thank you very much.
Sharon Rondeau, Editor
The Post & Email
PO Box 113
Canterbury, CT 06331-0113
Reeff then responded:
|Tim Reeff (email@example.com)|
|Sent:||Wed 9/28/16 6:32 PM|
For general inquiries please contact media relations 213-351-5886
For case specifics please file a WIC 827 motion at the juvenile court
to which The Post & Email responded:
Thank you very much. I will do so.
Sharon Rondeau, Editor
The Post & Email
We then contacted the Public Affairs office and by happenstance, were connected to Montiel, who had been about to leave for the day but chose to take our call after recognizing the name the operator provided.
After asking Montiel whether or not six weeks is the customary time period between the hearing on a petition for temporary custody and the scheduling of an “adoption assessment,” Montiel responded in a phone call recorded with his permission:
There are only certain conditions where the court would make an adoption plan or even terminate parental rights within six weeks. Those narrow conditions usually involve if a parent or parents were convicted of killing or torturing a child or some other extreme condition existed that basically nullified these parents from having children not taken away.
You’re talking about killing or torturing or some other willful or severe neglect. The law says that under these conditions, you can and should do an early termination of parental rights. Before that, you would recommend no family reunification services.
If there weren’t legal grounds for it, the parents you’re speaking to really need to have the related questions to that answered by their attorney. Assuming that they have an attorney that’s assigned to them by the court, they might have to wait a few days for an appointment. I think we have three law firms called the “Los Angeles Dependency lawyers.” Those are absolutely independent attorneys who represent only the parents. They don’t have a conflict of interest.
They need to get an explanation from their attorney as to why the case has taken this turn and what options they have to change this course.
“If, in fact, a child is headed for adoption after six weeks, I would say definitely that there are factors looming large that we’re not aware of, and that’s what the parent needs to confirm with his attorney,” Montiel said. “Anything is possible prior to that termination of parental rights. If parental rights have been terminated, there are still options, but that would be to re-petition the court for a new hearing on the court order.”
Once an adoption is finalized, then frankly I don’t know what avenues there would be to reverse that, but assuming that hasn’t happened, then the parents need to go to the attorney. If parental rights have been terminated, then I’m not certain that that attorney who was assigned to the parent is still assigned to the parent, because once parental rights have been terminated, they are no longer a part of that case. So that could complicate his legal representation. He might have to go to a private attorney. Even if he no longer has an assigned attorney, I would say he should still try to contact the attorney that had his case and have a consultation to find out what happened.
The attorneys are independent; we have no control or sway over the attorneys.
Montiel stated that there is no requirement that a dependency case or cases be closed out within a certain time frame. “The first goal is to have reunification within six months, but if not then, by the 12-month hearing. If the court says, “It’s extended six months, then it can be extended six months. By the 18-month hearing, there should be a determination of whether there’s some type of overriding reason that’s in the child’s interest to continue family reunification services, because at that point, there’s an expectation that there will be a permanent plan for that child. The state, the law, the advocates don’t want a child to be in a perpetual state of limbo. That’s why 18 months is the usual extension that you get before a permanent plan, but even within that, the court can decide that there’s an overriding reason in the best interest of the child to continue reunification because there’s a likelihood that in two moths, three months, whatever, the parents are going to achieve whatever needs to be achieved so that the child could have a home visit. So the court can do that.”
“Of course, after that, if the family reunification plan ends, the court’s jurisdiction could continue throughout the permanent planning stages until the child either has a legal guardian or has been adopted. If those two conditions don’t exist, then the court’s jurisdiction will continue because that’s what’s considered the permanent home: a legal guardian or an adoptive home. Absent a permanent situation, the court needs to and will maintain jurisdiction,” Montiel said.