What To Do When Your Grandchildren (or Nieces or Nephews) Are In DCF Care
When the Department of Children and Families (DCF) removes a child from his or her parents or guardians through a 96 hour hold or Order of Temporary Custody (OTC), it is supposed to consider relative placements before non-relative foster parents. If you are a grandparent, aunt, uncle or other relative of a child who has been removed or is being considered for removal, there are steps you can take to be considered as a resource.
It is often difficult to find out about child protection issues affecting your family because the parents of the children might not be forthcoming in telling relatives about those issues or telling DCF about relatives. It is understandable not to want to involve friends and family in difficult situations but it usually a good idea. If you are close to family who is dealing with DCF, I would recommend telling them that you would be willing to help them out and be a resource for the children. You and they might be able to work out a family relationship (possibly with a safety plan or service agreement) to avoid DCF filing a petition and bringing the case into court. I have had numerous cases in which parents and relatives had an informal arrangement in which the children temporarily stayed with the relatives while the parents addressed their issues without formal court involvement. Additionally, making yourself known and available to your relatives could cause them to tell DCF about you.
Before invoking a hold or OTC, DCF often holds a considered removal team meeting. The parents and other family members and friends meet with DCF to discuss what could be worked out. This is meeting is very critical. You should attend or call-in if invited. I recommend discussing the case among family and entering with a plan. Family arrangements are whatever a family can work out and if acceptable to DCF, could preclude court involvement. DCF is only able to legally remove a child for 96 hours unilaterally and requires a court order to extend that time. If there is a good family arrangement, even if DCF files a neglect petition, a judge might not be inclined to grant an OTC.
Attempting to communicate with DCF is another possibility. Sometimes you don't hear directly from DCF or even a family member about what's going on. In that case you have to reach out to DCF yourself by contacting the area office. This is where an attorney famliar with DCF and area personnel can be of assistance. If DCF checks you out and approves you as a placement, you could become a foster parent and receive financial assistance from DCF.
It is important to note that DCF foster placement decisions are administratve: they are decided by DCF, not by a court. If a parent or child seeks to change a placement, he or she would have to ask for an administrative review. While there is a judicial form that seems to suggest that an individual can intervene in a case to be a foster care placement, that is not supported by statute or regulation.
Intervention is when a person who is not named in a petition--i.e. not a parent or guardian--becomes a party in a case. The prospective intervenor must file a motion to intervene and it must be granted by the juvenile court. At that point, subject to limitations set by the court, the interevenor can function as a party and file motions and defend or prosecute the petition. There abilty to intervene depends greatly on the fats and posture of the case. If not approved as a foster parent, the intervenor can attempt to vest vest temporary custody in him or her self if it is an OTC situation or, if it is post adjudication, file a motion to transfer (and thus obtain) guardianship of the children.
If you are not granted intervenor status, you can still remain active in the case by communicating with DCF and being willing to be a guardian if the parents or another existing party seeks to transfer guardianship to you. Navigating DCF and the courts is complicated. You should consult with an experienced attorney, preferably me or my father, if you wish to get involved in a case.