Arizona CPS Exposed discusses the initial formal process of CPS – the Team Decision-Making Meeting and first court hearing

Last week we discussed the CPS and police investigations. Today we will discuss what happens next in this process including the Team Decision-Making Meeting and first court hearing.

CPS has removed your children from your home. What happens next?

After the removal of your child CPS is required to hold a Team Decision-Making Meeting. We were told this meeting is supposed to take place within 72 hours of removal but I could find no formal information on this meeting.

Since our grandchildren were taken on the Friday before a holiday weekend, our meeting was held on the following Tuesday but CPS actually documented the meeting as taking place on Monday – which was Labor Day.

While the inaccurate reporting of the date of the meeting seems rather unimportant, it actually reflects a bigger issue. The agency does not believe in accurate reporting of anything! Some may say it was just an oversight, but is it? Did they report the meeting so it fell within the 72 hours as required, even though they knew it was a holiday? Are they fudging documents in order to appear as if they are meeting their mandatory requirements?

This wasn’t the only case of inaccurate date reporting. They also reported hearings on different dates than they actually took place, prior CPS reports documented prior to the actual allegation, and referenced motions they claim the mother’s attorney filed prior to CPS removing the children, just to name a few.

Look at what is happening at the VA in Phoenix. It’s all about documentation and dates. Do we have similar behavior within the CPS agency?

What is the purpose of the Team Decision-Making Meeting?

The purpose of the Team Decision-Making Meeting is for all parties to meet to “discuss” what to do with the children. The family is supposed to bring other family members that may be interested in assisting the family or people who might be willing and able to temporarily foster the children. Family is supposed to be able to attend the meeting via phone if they cannot attend in person.

One attorney our family spoke with said this meeting is supposed to be a discussion to try to solve the immediate problem of providing the children with a safe environment while causing the least disruption to the children and family.

The booklet “A Guide to Child Protective Services” specifically states that “CPS works on behalf of children and families in Arizona to ensure the safety of children, while causing minimal disruption to the family.” The CPS booklet also says that: “CPS considers all viable options to protect the children from abuse or neglect prior to foster care placement.”

When put in to actual practice this could not be further from the truth!

Our team meeting consisted of CPS telling the family what was going to take place. The family had NO input into this decision. Several family members were willing and able to take the children into their homes but CPS refused to consider them at this time because of an “open police investigation.”

The family was able to report on our concerns for the children, their strengths, recommend which children might be best placed together, educational issues and concerns including that 4 of the children have IEP’s, one child was in the process of setting up the 504 Plan, and 3 of the children were currently in the process of pre-school evaluations due to suspected learning disabilities (something that runs in the family).

When the mother asked what she can do to make the process go faster the answer was “absolutely nothing.”

When one of the grandparents stated he did not understand what or why this was happening CPS responded with “No you don’t, you don’t know everything.”Yet CPS refused to give the family any additional information.

At this point the family had very little knowledge of the case. We only knew which child was involved and a vague idea of the allegations. We only got an idea of the allegations and case based on what the father could relate from his police inquiry.

While family was supposed to be able to attend by phone a number of interested parties had to be eliminated as there were not enough phone lines; we were limited to two. The family was not informed prior to the meeting that there was any limit. Four family members from out of state wanted to attend the meeting by phone and all were willing to accept some, if not all, of the children. We attended by phone also as we had a previous commitment. Due to the limited phone lines we and an aunt from out of state were able to attend by phone. Everyone else from out of state was not included in the meeting.

Due to the “open police investigation” the family was told the children would remain in foster care, the family would have no contact with any of the children including phone contact, there would be no visitation, there was nothing the parents could do to assist in the process, while everything else was being withheld.

We learned none of the children had been placed together except the twins and it would stay that way. We learned the mother’s drug test was clean and she could provide breast milk for the baby.

After those on the phone were disconnected CPS continued with the meeting with those in physical attendance. They collected the names and information to screen the family as possible kinship placements. CPS left out all people on the calls, both were willing to be considered as placements or safety monitors for the children.

It had been recommended by the family’s attorney that no attorney be present at this meeting. I’m not sure her rationale was valid. But if you have hired a private attorney to represent you in the case follow their instructions. If you are waiting for a court appointed attorney you will not be given the opportunity of having that attorney for the Team Decision-Making Meeting.

When we received the report from the Team Decision-Making Meeting we discovered that approximately 75% of the families’ input was not included on the report! This is when we were informed that it is not uncommon.

We further learned that CPS was having “issues” involving their documentation and the release of information to attorneys and others. This was reported in the Arizona Republic on September 14, 2012 with the article “Arizona CPS discovers computer glitch that hid files for years” which states:

An employee noticed that different sets of records were released to different parties in the same case.

Further review found the database system that tracks CPS cases, called CHILDS, had been programmed to print about one-third of the information considered public record under state and federal law. The programming error had been in place since the database was created in 1996.

"We thought we were printing out everything that there was," Peterson said. "We didn't have any reason to believe until this summer that we were not meeting our obligations."

Apparently when an attorney makes a request for the case file the attorney does not get the entire case file. Our attorney told us the ATTORNEY must then ask CPS for the missing documents. We wondered how an attorney could request documents that they may not know even exist. In any case it is the attorney’s responsibility and not CPS to obtain these missing documents.

So what happens next?

The next step is the Preliminary Protective Hearing in front of the judge and in court. This hearing is to take place 5-7 days after removal of the children. However, conveniently weekends and holidays do not count, so because CPS removed our grandchildren on a Friday afternoon over a holiday weekend it was 12 days later before our hearing was scheduled. CPS bought 2 weekends and a holiday to delay the hearing by selecting the day they removed the children.

Notice of this hearing is supposed to be delivered to the family within 24 hours after filing the petition. Our attorney told us we should receive this notice at least 24 hours prior to the date of the hearing. We were told the CPS case manager is responsible to hand deliver the notice. We never received any notice.

If you miss a court hearing the judge can find against the parents, take custody of the children and sever the parental rights. You cannot miss a hearing. So why would you fail to receive notice of the very first hearing you are to attend?

Had we not obtained a private attorney to represent the mother in the case we would not have been aware and would have missed the first hearing. However, the attorney had a watch on the court calendar and informed the family when the hearing was scheduled. Further, the attorney told the family to gather clothing and other items for the children so they could be delivered to CPS at the hearing as CPS would probably request these items. So despite CPS’s failure to follow the law, the mother’s attorney kept the family abreast of the requirements so they could be prepared.

The day of the hearing the CPS case manager spoke with the parents on the phone. It was only then that he informed the parents of the hearing and requested they bring clothing to court. This was TWO HOURS prior to the hearing and it is a one hour drive by car to get to the court building!

How many families have been negatively affected by CPS not following the requirements of notification as required by law?

Tell us what happens at this first hearing?

There are actually two steps at the first hearing.

The first is a Preliminary Protective Conference held prior to the court hearing. CPS, the attorney general’s office, the attorney’s, the parents and a moderator are included in this hearing. We had to get special permission for the grandparents to attend this meeting and we were instructed to remain quiet, even though the CPS booklet states “other people can come to this meeting, including relatives or others with whom the child might be placed.”

The parents will meet their attorney for the first time just prior to this meeting if they are assigned a court appointed attorney. The father received the court appointed attorney, so he met with his attorney just prior to the meeting and the meeting was actually delayed because of it.

This conference is supposed to be where all sides of the party meet and come up with some plan for reunification or disposition of the case. Services would be recommended, visitation recommendations are made, and the expectations are laid out so the family knows what obstacles they have to overcome in order to have their children returned to their custody.

But in our case it was different. Once again the family was told nothing. Due to the “open police investigation”; remember we are now 12 days after the removal of the children and the police investigation is still not complete, the case was stalled.

There was to be no visitation for any family member, no contact, the children could not have contact with each other, no services were being requested for the parents, and this is where the bombshell hit – CPS and the AAG (Assistant Attorney General) were asking for severance and adoption of all 9 children! Reunification was not in the plans and they were refusing to budge!

The grandparents all discovered that they were also under investigation. None of us understood why. We had no clue as the first time we became aware of any CPS issue was the day they took the children.

CPS did not have the information to process the family members wishing to take the children, so once again that information was provided to them.

The actual court hearing, the Preliminary Protective Hearing, was held after the meeting in front the judge. We had a temporary judge because the judge assigned to the case wasn’t there for this hearing.

At this hearing the judge would hear the recommendations from the Preliminary Protective Conference and then rule on the recommendations.

Our case had no recommendations for reunification. Once again the family had to endure the AAG making accusations that were not true and asking for all the limitations and restrictions on the family. The family has to remain silent despite all of this and allow their attorney to speak.

The mother’s attorney was fighting for visitation, especially with the babies (3 of the children were 3 or under). Baby cases, as they call them, are cases involving children under 4. The requirements for these children are shorter, the times betweens court hearings is shortened, as well as the time permitted for the reunification process. The parents only have 6 months to complete the reunification process before severance and adoption can be started on a baby case! So the clock was ticking and no services were being provided to the parents and the case plan the AAG wanted was severance and adoption.

Cases involving children 4 and older have 12 months to complete the reunification process before severance and adoption can be started. We were told this can be extended to 18 months.

So based on the lack of services and a reunification plan for the family we were facing a 6 month deadline for the babies and a 12-18 month deadline for the other children. The clock was ticking and we were getting no where!

While the judge did not order visitation, she also understood the process to get visitation could take several weeks. Despite the objections of CPS and the AAG the judge ordered that process to start, which meant the referrals were to be made.

When asked about the police investigation, the police investigator stated they had not yet interviewed all of the children. Because the police investigation was not completed the judge also ordered the investigation to be completed within a week. The next hearing was scheduled for the following week.

This was also the first time we met the Guardian ad Litem or GAL. This attorney is assigned to the children and is supposed to look out for their interests in the case. It is the GAL that is the child’s voice in court.

Children over the age of 12 may also be assigned an attorney to represent them. Three of the children in our case were assigned to an attorney; the same attorney represented all three.

During this process we attempted to speak with the GAL. The paternal grandmother had managed to speak with her prior to the court hearing and they became “best buds.” We believe it was that relationship that undermined our relationship with the GAL.

While the GAL gave us her card, she only spoke with us briefly after the hearing and told us to call her. Playing telephone tag for a period of time we never connected with the GAL. Throughout the case the GAL on our case was extremely negative toward us, would not recommend us for anything to help the case along, and never really spoke with us.

Due to the court order to complete the “open police investigation” we had an extra hearing within one week of the first.

What bothered us was that just prior to when they call everyone in to the hearing, the detective on the case went into the courtroom alone. He came back out and then the case was called. The first thing stated in court was that this judge had worked with this detective before and the judge declared he could remain impartial. It raised our suspicions.

At this second hearing we heard more of the same. But then the judge ordered NO visitation, cancelling the previous judge’s order! Severance and adoption was the case plan. The family was devastated. How could this be happening?

At this point in the case we still have not seen anything tangible. No police reports have been disclosed, no videos released. We had nothing!

What else can you share about your case?

There was one statement we heard throughout the case from all sources: “This is not the way this is supposed to happen.” For some reason, only known to the AAG and CPS, our case was not following the law and the way things were supposed to work.

The second thing to keep in mind was that all therapists our daughter saw agreed that CPS failed to handle the case “in the child’s best interest” and with their mandate of trying to keep the family together and cause the least disruption. They agreed that the best solution in the case would have been to have the father move out of the home, to have us move in to the family home and act as safety monitors or temporary guardians for the children in order to keep them together. Had they actually done that the children would not have suffered the trauma they still live with today.

Next week’s show

Next week we will discuss what might take place after this first hearing until the next.

Sources:

Arizona Republic article links for undisclosed records/computer glitch, September 2012:

http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2012/09/14/20120914arizona-cps-computer-glitch-hid-files-years.html

http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2012/09/17/20120917arizona-cps-undisclosed-records-downplayed.html

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