Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Review-presentation offered by Judicial Council of California

This is the first in a three part series reviewing Continuing Legal Education information provided to attorneys who represent children and parents in dependency cases in California. I requested and was graciously provided with a copy of the presentation for the purposes of this review. The DVD includes two discussions and a video game. Today's topic is a review of the first presentation, Substance Abuse: The Web of Addiction.

This presentation represents that addiction is a factor in majority of dependency cases. However, based on government statistics, neglect is the major factor. Anecdotal reports indicate that poverty is the root of most neglect cases. It seems to be lazy reasoning to conclude that because substance abuse is more prevalent in poorer areas, that substance abuse is directly responsible for child abuse. 

I do not dispute that substance abuse is a major factor in some child welfare cases, however, many jurisdictions have ruled that substance abuse is not in an of itself, a legitimate reason to remove children from the family home. If the use of substances affects the welfare of the children, i.e. the children's minimum basic needs are not being met by the caregiver, only then can the state justify intervention into the family unit. But even then, as the judge in this presentation noted, if the parent's or the child's attorney can demonstrate to the court that the child can be safely kept in the home, the state is not permitted to remove the children from the family home, or obstruct speedy reunification. Just how to accomplish that outcome was never discussed. 

During the presentation of the discussion on the biology of addiction, the spokesperson lawyer comments," We're talking about the abuse and neglect of little children, here." This is a graphic illustration of the effectiveness of the child saver's pervasive fear-mongering campaign which equates substance abuse with child abuse. 

An examination of the facts reveals that these are two distinct states which may have a cause and effect relationship, but which are equally likely not to have a cause and effect relationship. This video as much as admitted that there are functional addicts in every walk of life, including sitting on the benches of our courts. He asks where to draw the line between use of drugs and a presumed effect it is having on the children, ignoring the legal fact that the state bears the burden of proof that there is a legally sufficient reason to intervene into the family based solely on the parent's use of substances, including tobacco or alcohol. 

Attorneys on the panel recommend using the child as a way to leverage the parent's participation in agency recommended treatment as an effective tactic. The brutality of this practice, especially the effect of the prolonged removal and isolation from their parents upon the children, is a shocking illustration about how casually participants in these cases view the forced separation of children from their parents. They promote holding the children hostage  as part of the coercive methods employed in the imposition of inappropriate case plans which are in reality not designed to effect the purported rehabilitation of the parent. 

The presentations states that parents need support and services to overcome their addiction, But, the panel's suggestions for support do not include the services offered by trained and certified family advocates. This type of community based service has proven an effective model in other jurisdictions to insure parent's compliance with appropriate case plans, speeding up reunification, and providing non-abusive motivations for the parent's compliance coupled with forcing the agencies to fulfill their statutory mandates in child welfare cases. 

But while this presentation stresses the importance of parents seeking help with rehabilitation, we have received many report of parents seeking help in overcoming their addiction have had their children removed. This video seems to support the agency posture that any use of substances, even moderate use of legal substances, is grounds for state intervention and the removal of children. This obstacle to rehabilitation was never even addressed. 

This presentation is better directed toward addicts. It is an effective reinforcement for the child saver line that substance use is automatically a threat to the child, a premise that is unproven by the facts and unsupported by law. 

As a tool to train attorneys who represent parents and children in child welfare cases, it is a complete bust. It gives excuses for  the agency not to provide appropriate services to address alleged addiction, including lack of resources. 

The administrators and judges expect the parents to make change without requiring the agency to provide appropriate and effective services which will give the parent effective tools to overcome the substance abuse. It does not even enlighten attorneys as to what constitutes appropriate treatment plans and services in cases involving substance abuse, much less teach the attorneys how to vigorously represent the rights of the parents and the children during this kind of case. 

It was even advocated that the agencies heap extensive case plan requirements on the parents, totally oblivious to the fact that placing this kind of burden upon addicted parents who are already in a critically traumatic situations is a fail-safe recipe for failure.  All of this appears to forward the premise that parents must be nearly perfect as a condition of exercising the right to family association, rather than the legal reality that parents are only required under the law to provide the minimum of care, supervision, education, medical to maintain the integrity of the family unit. 

This presentation does have the redeeming feature of illustrating exactly what is wrong with the court-appointed representation that parents and children in child welfare cases must endure. They don't even properly present the applicable law with respect to representing parents and children in child welfare cases involving alleged substance abuse. 

This provides nothing substantive to attorneys who desire to vigorously represent parents and children in child welfare cases. 

Next: What Juvenile Dependency Attorneys Need to Know About Basic Child Development presentation.

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Leave the emotions, propaganda and rhetoric at the door. This blogger is only interested in intelligent, logical, well-thought out, factually based comments which are on-topic, indicating the writer has an open mind and a mature ability to reason.