PREVENT unwarranted child removals. DHS Philadelphia update policy and retrain workforce

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Social workers have to make extremely difficult decisions when it comes to protecting children. However unwarranted child removals represent a dramatic and often traumatic experience for the child, parents and families. Therefore high quality investigations and removal decisions are essential and the recommendations in this petition may help improve and strengthen Child Protective Services (CPS) standards and polices, and produce better outcomes for children and families.

My Story:

My name is Dr. Tamiera Harris and I was asked to adopt a child from birth by a family member. The Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS*) was involved in that they assisted with allowing me to get the child from the hospital and worked to terminate the parent’s right so the child was available for me to adopt since February of 2016. Tamia and I had a great life for 19 months. We completed a home study, foster care and adoption training in 2016. Once we were just a few weeks out from completing the adoption, a new NET CUA worker Sherell patterson was assigned to the case. At this point we had already completed all documents for the adoption and had been visited by social workers over 57 times during those 19 months for routine safety checks. The NET CUA worker went to court and did not notify or invite me to the court hearing. NET CUA and DHS did not provide the date, time or room information for the permanency hearing so I could be present. This new worker from NET CUA went to court and stated that no safety checks visits had been done for months. In fact she stated she did not know when safety checks visits were completed and thought the child should be removed from the home. She also made references that she did not understand how I could own and rent a home as if homeownership and renting properties is not a common practice in America. NET CUA and DHS made a error illegally removing a child whom I was planning to adopt without any notification of a removal or without given me any opportunity to defend any claims. They also ignored my request for an appeal and never filed the appeal that I requested. Because of  this new social worker report Sherell Patterson who was not a licensed social worker at the time and had only been on the case for a few days, DHS recommended removal of my child whom I raised since birth and she was taken from me for 5 months and 2 weeks. I was only allowed to see her one hour per week under a supervised visit.

It was later confirmed that no safety checks were ever missed both in court and via email from a NET CUA lawyer. This child had 19 months of safety check visits on record. Instead of them showing some accountability they made me take foster care and adoption training a second time and made me complete a second home study. However during the time my child was away from me she was hurt in two different foster homes under NET CUA and DHS watch. Charise Gale slipped up and mentioned that Tamia was placed in two different foster homes and I was never made aware that she was moved. The first foster home she received face injuries and the second foster home the foster parent put her in cheap diapers which caused a severe rash. In fact my child looked so poor and mistreated during our supervised visits that I was sad every day. This child was removed from a financially stable, safe home and subjected to abuse, neglect and poor treatment under NET CUA and DHS watch. Tamia was returned to me and I was awarded Physical custody July 18, 2017 with the plan to adopt. However DHS stated that I had to wait for 6 months to adopt her per their policy which I have not seen and does not reflect the Pennsylvania statutes since I had already had the child for 2 years and it was a family placed adoption. However I waited as they suggested. I had to take time off of work to achieve the demanding training schedule and lost a lot of money from legal fees to time away from work and my businesses.

Again after being close to completing the adoption, on December 22, 2017 NET CUA and DHS workers showed up to my home and stated they were removing the child because I prepaid my rent lease. Kenneth Dixon told me that he did not want to remove the child but he was ordered to do so by DHS Upper Management. I informed Kenneth Dixon and Miriam Colon that they could not remove her and needed to get a court order. I asked them to leave and they stood in my doorway. They called the police and the police came into my home and searched around without a warrant. The police acknowledged on camera that the child and home appeared to be safe and asked NET CUA and DHS to send the court order which stated that the child was to be removed. Still after NET CUA and DHS were not able to produce a court order for removal the police spoke to DHS upper management and allowed NET CUA and DHS to remove the child from my home.

After not knowing the whereabouts of my child for two weeks I called the police and asked them to investigate Tamia’s removal since they essentially kidnapped my child, never logged her removal and she was being held against her will. When the Philadelphia police went to the NET CUA office on 01-05-2018 they spoke to the Director Leticia Lacomba and Cherise Gale who stated they were familiar with the case and they confirmed to police that the child was removed for safety reasons because I did not finish adoption training to become a permanent home. However I had copies of my training certificates which confirmed training was completed 8 months ago in April 2017. The police then asked where was the child and NET CUA told police that the child has been placed and would not confirm the whereabouts of the child. Since NET CUA and DHS are concealing the whereabouts of my child whom I have custody of and interfered with a court order it appears that they have violated several laws in the state of Pennsylvania including retaliation.

Still on 01-05-2018 after learning of the NET CUA and DHS error regarding training I produced confirmation of my certification and they still refused to give me back my child whom I raised since birth. They also refused to place Tamia with her NET CUA certified family respite provider who attempted 7 times to get Tamia out of foster care but instead they placed her in a foster home with strangers where she developed behavior issues from being ripped from her mom twice in 1 year. They said Tamia destroyed her room in foster care. Tamia never had behavioral issues for 2 years under my care. Clearly she has been traumatized by NET foster care agency and DHS. NET CUA and DHS did not contact Tamia's family regarding her removal still even after almost 4 months. They have not acted in the best interest of Tamia who also has a biological mom and siblings whom she has not seen in months.

I hired a lawyer to assist with the case and also requested a timely appeal of the removal since DHS did not have a court order for a removal when they walked Tamia out of her pre-adoptive home 3 days before Christmas on 12-22-2017. Again a second time they never logged my appeal so we sent it to Harrisburg and made sure it was logged. As the prospective adoptive parent, I am seeking a judicial review and appealof the agency decision to remove Tamia. Per the last permanency hearing on 11-16-2017 it was ordered that Tamia was to remain in her preadoptive home with me. Therefore they should of been aware of how traumatic a removal is for the both of us since this was the second time in one year that they made this error. Therefore I believe that acted maliciously due to previous grievances filed against them and retaliated against Tamia and I. NET CUA and DHS violated our constitutional rights when they removed Tamia without a court order and when no safety issues were present. 

NET CUA and DHS actions following confirmation that training was completed show that they lack accountability for their errors. NET CUA and DHS removed a child 2 times in one year making mistakes on the case which show they lack investigative skills and do not understand the legal requirements with removals nor do they understand child welfare laws, due process rights and civil liberties of the people they serve. The below recommendations could of prevented this unwarranted removal since the child was confirmed happy, healthy and safe during all visits for over 2 years.

Tamia's birth mom placed her with me to avoid her going into the system. Her birth mom is completely disappointed and devastated that her wishes are not being carried out. Tamia's birth mom has written letters to the Commissioner of DHS Cynthia Figueroa, the mayor of Philadelphia Jim Kenney and the Philadelphia City Solicitor lawyer overseeing the case for DHS Michael Mon expressing her concern that Tamia is not with me or family. The birth mom, grandparents and all of Tamia's family members have been ignored after attempting to get her out of foster care. Tamia's family respite provider has also written letters after attempting to get Tamia out of foster care and placed with family. Tamia's respite provider was certified by NET CUA yet the agency has chosen to place her with strangers. Tamia's respite provider has also been identified as Tamia's backup guardian in a notarized agreement signed in October 2016. This is extremely concerning since Tamia was previously hurt in two non-family related NET CUA foster homes. IT IS IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THIS CHILD to have her quickly reunited with her family and the only mom she has ever known since birth for 2 years. NET and DHS are aware Tamia has a backup family guardian and still has not placed Tamia with family. Clearly they have not acted at any point in the best interest of the child. Her child advocate Andre Martino also failed her. He met Tamia once when she was a newborn and has never advocated for her. There is a conflict of interest with this child advocate as he has a innapropriate relationship with the city solicitor for DHS Michael Mon which has affected his ability to advocate for Tamia. 

Update: The court has since requested that Tamia's pic come down and I am respecting the court's demands while I pursue Justice for Tamia and still exercise my 1st amendment rights. NET CUA and DHS have changed their story in order to try to justify this removal. Unfortunately, none of their reasons make sense. They even tried to say that they removed her because there was no car seat in the home and another one there was no permission to take a vacation. Please pray for Tamia. She is being denied the right to be with her biological family and NET CUA and DHS were willing to break the law and violate our constitutional rights to take her. I wonder how many other children in Philadelphia have been impacted by unwarranted and baseless removals. 

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

1) Update or develop a Policy Manual that clearly defines what immediate danger is to children and how that justifies removal without a Family Court order. Child Protective Services (CPS) to establish effective training and oversight to ensure the policy is always met. CPS to develop clearer guidance for child protective service staff regarding when emergency removals are appropriate and when they are not. CPS to train staff and supervisors on this guidance, and evaluate CPS staff and supervisors based on their compliance with this guidance.

2) CPS to make better use of legal procedures to file a case without removing children. A legal process exists that CPS could use when the Agency has concerns about a family but an immediate danger does not require removal. It is recommended that DHS develop a policy which documents the legal procedures when true emergencies do not exist and train its staff on implementing the policy.

3) CPS to increase its use of pre-removal Family Team Meetings in non-emergency cases. Before removing a child when the child is not in current, future or imminent danger, reasonable efforts should be made by CPS to prevent that removal. These reasonable efforts can include holding a Family Team Meeting and must be documented. If pre-removal Family Team Meetings are not possible, then CPS should continue making extensive efforts to hold post-removal FTMs within 72 hours. CPS to update, implement and retrain workforce that when a child is removed for safety reason that a hearing needs to be scheduled within 72 hours of the child’s removal to determine whether the child should be released to the parent, another caretaker or remain in foster care. If a parent or caregiver is denied custody of the child then timely written notification should be provided so parents are aware of their appeal rights.

4) CPS to implement and follow policy on quickly offering supervised visitation within 72 hours when a child is not in current, future or imminent danger. CPS to consider respite care and kinship/family arrangements within 72 hours of removal. In moving to these alternatives to foster care, parents, guardians and those who have physical custody of the child can provide a recommendation for family placement.

5) In order for States to receive Federal payments for foster care and adoption assistance, Federal law under title IV-E of the Social Security Act requires that they “consider giving preference to an adult relative over a nonrelated caregiver when determining placement for a child, provided that the relative caregiver meets all relevant State child protection standards.” Title IV-E further requires States to exercise due diligence to identify and provide notice to all grandparents and other adult relatives of the child (including any other adult relatives suggested by the parents or guardian). Failure to show consistent documentation of contacting family should lead to increased monitoring and sanctions for agencies up to employment termination for those who are not compliant and disregard this law and policies implemented by Child Protective Services.

6) In approximately 33 States*, when a parent places the child directly with a relative, the laws provide for a streamlined adoption process, such as not requiring a preplacement assessment or a home study. CPS and its umbrella agencies to be trained on these laws as incidents have occurred where children and prospective adoptive parents are not provided with notice by CPS regarding a streamlined adoption process in the state of Pennsylvania and 32 other states. CPS to provide more transparency in foster care and adoption rights options so parents and guardians can make the best decision for the child and the family.

7) Develop an accountability plan that places corrective actions and penalties for parties that do not follow the policies, procedures, foster care, adoption and child welfare laws. Place tougher penalties on social workers and agency leaders who retaliate, misrepresent facts or fail to uphold the standards set forth by the agency and the laws of the state.

8) If allegations are made that warrant a removal, the agency must get a court order and they must show written documentation of the details of the allegations to the foster parent or parent on the day of removal to avoid changes in their story.

Significant reform is needed to prevent unnecessary removals and to avoid the trauma the removals cause to children and families. In some cases, Child Protective Services remove children without a Family Court Order abusing their authority in non-emergency situations. When safety issues are identified, CPS can obtain a Family Court Order or Order of Protective Custody. Additional statewide training is needed to help CPS staff develop clearer guidance for child protective service staff regarding when emergency removals are appropriate and when they are not. Providing stability to children should be a mutual goal for both CPS and families. A collaborative and guided approach to implementing permanency goals for children is needed to bring more transparency and adherence to the policies and laws regarding child welfare, foster care, and adoption.

 References:

 1.      Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Placement of children with relatives. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

2.      Citizen Review Panel (2011) Quick Exit Study. Page 1-92

 

* Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia

*DHS is the child protective agency in Pennsylvania. Child Protective Services (CPS) has been used throughout this petition since it is widely known agency acronym across the United States.

 



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