I wish I had known to DOCUMENT AND RECORD EVERYTHING when i had to deal with government agencies. I thought I could trust the people that worked for the state and I was really naive. Now I know, and though documenting and recording any involvement with government agents is a must, I am going to share a few helpful hints for parents who have to deal with the Department of Health and Human Services DIVISION of Families and Children Child Protection Services workers.
- This means locking knives, guns, and poisonous cleaning supplies and other chemicals where children cannot get to them.
- Make sure your yards are safe.
- Vaccinate your animals. You may need to build a fence to keep large animals away from small children.
- Get ready for “the white glove test”. This means making sure that your house is safe and clean. Clean ceiling fans, the top of the refrigerator, behind the toilet, and any other place that you can think of that you may have forgot the last time you cleaned.
- Do not forget to pay your utilities. The person that inspects your home will make sure that you have cold and hot running water and electricity.
- Prove that you can financially care for your children. Keep, clothes, hygienic items, and food. Be ready to prove income to support your children consistently.
- Laws pertaining to discipline vary across the states. Be familiar with the laws in your state. Take parenting classes if you need to. There is no shame in learning to be a better parent.
- Let the worker know how much you care for your children and that you can emotionally care for your children.
- Think about how important transportation is to you and your children.
- If you own a vehicle, make sure it is clean and maintained.
- Make sure the insurance is up to date.
- If you do not own a vehicle, think about other ways that you can safely get your children to a doctor or school and other events. Are there buses, taxis, or other rideshares in your area that can safely transport you and your children?
- If there is an emergency, do you know what number to call for an ambulance or the police?
Preparing for the Court:
- Make a home office space somewhere in your home where you can safely keep important documents.
- Get folders, a file cabinet, or boxes to store all of your paperwork in your safe office space.
- Invest in a scanner/printer and other office supplies so you can stay organized and keep your originals in order. Scan these into GOOGLE DRIVE or another online source so that if you file complaints, they are easy to forward to the complaint investigator.
- \Mark your calenders. Calenders are a good way to keep up with important dates and times.
- Keep a Journal of important events with details of times, dates, places, people, phone numbers, addresses, offices, anything related to your case that may be important. (Sometimes we don’t think it is important but it really is so keep track of EVERYTHING.)
- Make a couple of copies of your documents. Only share copies of your documents and evidence. Do not give your original documents away. I keep my originals in a separate file cabinet so that I do not get them mixed up with the copies and give the wrong one or too many away. Make sure you keep your original documents safe and don’t give them away. I keep one file cabinet for the originals and another file cabinet for the copies that I can easily grab to share with lawyers, legislators, or court clerks.
- Create a “Timeline of Events” for your case. This is a good way to take what is on your calender and in your journal, along with your other documents that are stacked up in your file cabinets and make it all make sense. On a page or two highlight events; courtdates, meetings, important phone calls, visitations, shared parenting meetings, community family team meetings, child planning conferences, mediation meetings, or notifications. Things that happen that are key to what is going on in your case. Keep all of the evidence of these events in your file cabinet or box in case you need them and just highlight in a few words or sentences what that big stack of paperwork is all about and in what order it all happened.
- Save and make copies of text messages and emails.
- Get copies of case files, court transcripts, and even previous court documents that may exist (child support, child custody, etc). These can be obtained from the court clerk . (There is usually a fee to obtain files.)
- Obtain any new case files that may be filed in between court dates. Sometimes these are filed right before court so you need to get files before and after each court date.
- Identification; driver’s license or other state id.
- Photos you can copy that are dated and show evidence of things in a clear fashion; like if your child comes to visitation with a huge bruise on his arm, take a picture close up of the bruise and further away so the bruise can be identified as belonging to him. You will need at least three copies of each photo if you intend on submitting it to the court.
- Recorded phone calls need to be transcripted by a court-approved transcriptionist if you want to introduce them as evidence.
- Your Local District Court Rules. Every district court (or collection of counties court) has their own rules to abide by which you will need to abide by. It is also helpful because most of the rules have outlines of education and requirements of attorneys to be able to practice as a court-appointed attorney in that county.
- Previous client-attorney files of past attorneys, whether court-appointed or private. You can usually email them and request that they give it to you.
- Prepare for what you will say in court.
- Prepare a three minute, five minute, fifteen minute, and thirty minute speech. We never know how much time we will be given to speak so it is important to think ahead and make words count.
- Learn to advocate for yourself and your children. Talk to lawyers and social workers to find out what they expect and require from you.
- Hire a lawyer. I interview lawyers before I pay them. I want to know that they do not have any conflicts and that they are on my side and understand that I expect them to fight with me for my family. You will hear that there are lawyers out there that just take your money and do nothing for you and that can be very true and very sad. There are also lawyers out there that will fight for you and your family. Make sure that the lawyer you hire is up to date with current laws and policies that may affect your outcomes. One such policy is the Family First Preventative Services Act of 2018. This act allows states to be paid for kinship placements though not all states have implemented this law yet, it is still law. There may be new laws in your state that legislators have passed that lawyers may not know about. Recently Arkansas passed laws that require fathers and other family members to be represented in child custody and child protection cases.
- Ask your lawyer to record hearings.
- Hire your own court reporter. Court reporters can record and document proceedings for you.
- If they require you to talk to their doctor, psychologist or to take a drug test from one of the courts testers, do that, and also hire your own doctor or psychologist that can make evaluations and testify in court. You can also go to various places for drug tests. Go to the one you are court ordered to go to, and if the result is a false positive, go straight to the next reputable tester and test again. 25% to 50% of those tests give false positives. Sometimes an over the counter medication or prescription can also make a drug test look dirty.
- Make use of notaries and certified mail to document evidence and communications. It may be necessary to sign power of attorney over to a grandparent or other family member. Notaries can sometimes be cheaper than lawyers for this.
- Keep your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites clean. Judges, employers and other people with authority look at social media posts.
Find Case Laws and Learn what is happening. Judges, lawyers, and child protection workers do this every day. You are just plugged into their routine so learn what the process is and how to communicate with them. Some federal acts that may be relevant to your case include; the UCCJEA, VAWA, Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Indian Child Welfare Act, and Family First Act.
Other useful resources: What Are Buzzwords and Why Do They Matter?
Minding Hearts Resource Giide
Minding Hearts is building advocacy and peer support groups in each state. The groups are created to raise awareness, educate, and advocate for those that might not otherwise be heard. We are here for encouragement, education, and support. We cannot give legal advice, but we can try and direct you in the right direction with your case. Links to legal services are listed with their states. Please share and let’s grow our groups. We are here to support families and develop resources that maintain family integrity. We look forward to your support. If you would rather become active by donating, then visit the donation page.