Q: Based on national averages, DSS' 11% rate of putting families back together says they are a failure at what they are supposed to be doing.
A: First, it should be noted that the judge in each case determines whether
reunification occurs. Still, the statistic cited above is incorrect. From July 1996 to the present, the reunification rate for Mecklenburg County is 25%. This is lower than the state average of 36% but consistent with the only other county in North Carolina, Wake County, that is close to the size of Mecklenburg. Wake County's has a 27% reunification rate during this same time.
While such comparisons are useful on one level, to fully measure reunification, like comparisons must be made. For example, for what reasons were petitions filed in other counties? Were the circumstances more or less severe than in Mecklenburg County? What were the allegations made regarding child abuse, neglect and/or dependency in these other counties that might have necessitated removal. More or less cases may have been petitioned on dependency rather than abuse or neglect. The types of cases often have a strong correlation to the rate of reunification. Cases dealing with dependency often have higher reunification rates than those where there were allegations of abuse or neglect. Finally, reunification only can occur when a judge makes this determination, not the DSS agency.
Q: Please explain the numbers behind the survey in the Charlotte Observer where Mecklenburg County has and keeps more children in DSS custody than other counties of comparable size and in the surrounding area.
A: Please see the answer to the above question.
Q: Is it normal procedure for DSS or the court system to inform parents that they are going to seek to remove their parental rights in one year. If so, how does this work with "our first goal is to reunify the family"?
A: Parents are informed and continuously reminded by social workers, their attorney, and presiding judge that they have up to one year to correct the problems that led to the removal of the child. Services will be offered to help them correct the problem. If they fail to demonstrate satisfactory progress related to their case plan, or refuse to cooperate, the judge will look at an alternative permanent plan for the child, including removal of parental rights and ultimately adoption. Concurrent planning is utilized in every case to minimize the time that a child remains in foster care. This means that separate plans are developed for the different rulings that could be made by a judge.
State law requires DSS to seek a permanent safe home. Reasonable efforts to reunite the family are required even though the initial goal is reunification. A parent's lack of cooperation and compliance in addressing case plan goals may result in the court changing the goal to another permanent plan.
Q: If a church were to take over the Stratton's case, would the children be returned?
State law prohibits the County from revealing information concerning any particular child protective case, so the answer to this question will be general in nature.
A church or any other community entity is not sanctioned by statute to "take over" a child protective service case, but churches and other community organizations often offer support to families in many ways. Such support could be helpful to the family in meeting the obligations of the case plan approved by the court.
Q: Why is DSS allowed to add on more and more demands of the parents, when no further charges have been brought against the parents?
A: In cases where DSS removes a child, an initial case plan is developed to reunite the family. The plan is developed jointly with the parents and others and is adopted by the court. Generally the plan will identify issues that need to be addressed for reunification to occur. This may require a parent to complete a number of things depending on what the issues are that caused removal. Quite often some type of assessment/evaluation to address parenting style or ability etc. will be required, but then, at the conclusion of the assessment, the parent will be required to follow the recommendations of the case evaluator. The recommendations must be followed to address the issue(s) that cause removal. It is similar to a doctor's visit where an examination (assessment) reveals there is a problem. The doctor makes recommendations to treat the problem. If the patient doesn't follow the recommendations, the problem persists and may get worse. In DSS cases, a parent is required to comply with completing the assessment/evaluation and following the evaluator's recommendations, if any. All parties can and do make additional recommendations as issues develop throughout the case. The court decides which recommendations it will or will not adopt. To a large extent, the parent's behavior dictates what changes the judge makes in the in the plan. Case assessment is an ongoing process because circumstances within a family may change. As changes occur, case plans must be updated.