A quick trip to the store during naptime or a momentary lapse in supervision can turn into a nightmare for parents. One minute, the family is at home. The next minute, caseworkers remove the children for suspected neglect or abuse. It’s a traumatic experience for everyone, but the system has improved.
More than 10 years ago, Alabama reformed its child welfare programs so that instead of breaking families apart, the Department of Human Resources can reunite children with their parents. The legal process moves swiftly, but you have a brief chance to get back on your feet and help your family stay together.
The Shelter Care Hearing after an Emergency Removal
After a child is removed, a shelter care hearing is held within 72 hours to decide what should happen next. Here’s how it works:
- Before the 72-hour shelter care hearing, you should talk to a family law attorney who can determine the most effective way to present your case.
- During the hearing, which is usually held at the juvenile court, a caseworker and attorney representing DHR will tell the judge why your child was removed.
- Next, your attorney will share your side of the story. Parents might argue that the reasons didn’t exist or describe ways that they protect their children’s wellbeing.
- Then, the judge will decide whether your child should be moved into foster care or allowed to return home.
When Children Are Required To Stay In Foster Case
If the judge says that your children must remain out of your care, you have several options. Your attorney will prepare for this and develop a strategy so that you can visit your kids regularly and spend as much time with them as possible.
Although you may feel guilty and upset, you have rights too. You can recommend relatives or friends to care for your children temporarily. These caregivers could attend the hearing, or you might provide a list of names, phone numbers and addresses. The state must consider kinship placements before foster care. You could also recommend that siblings be placed together. Here are several other rights that parents have during hearings and trials:
- You have the right to legal representation.
- DHR must tell you why they removed your child.
- Each allegation must appear in the petition that DHR submits to the court.
- You have the right to bring in witnesses.
- You can testify at the shelter care hearing.
- You have the right to present a defense and to appeal the court’s decision.
- The agency and its workers cannot discriminate against you.
- DHR must let you apply for services that will help reunite your family.
If your children were removed and you aren’t sure what to do next, contact Allums Welsch, PC. Our family law attorneys will represent your interests during the initial shelter care hearing and until you regain custody. We’ve helped parents in Bessemer and Birmingham since 2001. Call our office now to schedule a free initial consultation.