When the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) removes a child from the custody of a parent, the agency is entrusted with locating an appropriate placement for the child. That placement can be with relatives or non-relative resource caregivers. When concerns of abuse or neglect occur in placement, the allegations are investigated by the Institutional Abuse Investigation Unit (IAIU). The Division also conducts an investigation to determine whether the child has been abused or neglected.
What role does the parent play in these investigations? Are the parents consulted? Pursuant to the administrative code, the parents must be contacted and advised of the investigation, even where the parent does not have custody. But, what happens when the parent is the one who makes the referral alleging abuse or neglect by the caregivers?
The Division and IAIU are required to investigate the referral. But when the agency has failed to choose an appropriate placement in the child in that being abused or neglected in the placement, the agency obviously does not want to highlight its failures to the parent. After all, it was the parents alleged malfeasance that led to the state taking action it deemed superior to that of the parent.
Unfortunately, when a parent is accused of abuse or neglect, his/her concerns for the child often fall on deaf ears. Anecdotal experience supports the notion that trial courts are more inclined to rely upon the division and especially the law guardian than upon the parents. How, then, can the parent convince the court to take their concerns for potential abuse or neglect of your child in foster care seriously?
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Document changes in the child’s physical appearance or emotional state at visitation. If the child comes to visitation with the parent with bruises or marks, that should be noted in writing to the agency and perhaps to the court.
2. Take pictures where appropriate to document injuries to the child.
3. If abuse is suspected, ask the child about suspicious injuries in the presence of a worker who would have a duty to document what the child has said.
4. Inconspicuously suggest to the law guardian that abuse may be at play. The law guardian has significantly more contact/access than the parents and can make surprise visits.
5. We’re serious concerns arise, insist upon a Child interview and pose questions about what is going on in foster care to the judge to be asked of the child.
Unfortunately, parents accused of abuse or neglect are often given short shrift when they raise concerns for the well-being of their child. That does not mean that the parents should give up hope and stop advocating for their child. But it does call into question our system when a parent accused of abusing a child, who may ultimately be exonerated, is ignored when real abuse takes place in foster care.