Child Abuse and Neglect: How can relatives (other than the parents) become involved to help the child?

Introduction

This article has specific information about ways that relatives (like grandparents) can seek to be involved in the Child Abuse and Neglect process to help a child. Read our article on Child Abuse and Neglect under West Virginia Law for more general information about what is child abuse and neglect and how the process works. 

Who investigates child abuse and neglect in West Virginia?

In West Virginia, Child Protective Services (CPS), which is under the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), investigates possible child abuse and neglect.

Why would a child be removed from a home?

A child could be removed from the home for several reasons. The DHHR looks at three:

  • There is reasonable cause to believe that the child is in imminent danger; or
  • Keeping the child in the home is not safe for the child; or
  • An emergency made it impossible or unreasonable for the DHHR to leave the child in the home.

If CPS believes a child is in danger, CPS may take emergency custody of the child before an emergency abuse and neglect petition is filed with a court. CPS must then immediately go to a Circuit Court judge or Magistrate Court judge and ask for an order for emergency custody. If CPS receives this order, CPS must file an abuse and neglect petition within 48 hours.

How will relatives find out that a child has been removed from his/her parents’ home?

The child’s caseworker is required to actively search for relatives within the first thirty (30) days of the child’s removal from the home.

The child’s case worker must find and give notice to the following relatives of the child:

  • All adult grandparents of the abused child;
  • All parents with custody of a sibling of the abused child; and
  • Other adult relatives (including any other adult relatives suggested by the parents).

I'm a relative. What do I need to do to get the child placed with me?

There are two options that would allow the child to be placed directly with you. While doing these things doesn’t guarantee that a child will be placed with you, it will raise your chances of getting the child.

1. You can become a certified foster parent. You must complete the PRIDE classes and undergo a home study to be certified as a foster parent. PRIDE stands for Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education. PRIDE training teaches foster and adoptive parents skills and prepares them for the challenges of fostering or adopting a child. For more information, go to DHHR’s website.

2. Or, you can ask to become a “kinship placement.” Kinship placement is putting the child in the home with any person who is related to the child by blood or marriage including cousins or in-laws. It can also include anyone the child regards as family, such as godparents or close family friends. Once you know that a child in your family has been placed into foster care, contact DHHR and tell them you would like to become a placement for the child. The process for placing the child with you can go faster because you are a relative or kinship.

The best thing is to be proactive and cooperative.

  • Reach out to the local DHHR and let them know you are willing and able to be a home for the child.
  • Cooperate with the DHHR to do a home study of your house.
  • Take the PRIDE classes to become a foster parent.

DHHR workers are often busy handling many cases for abused children. It may seem that they do not want you to have the child. Do not be discouraged. Continue to follow-through and complete all the steps that they ask you to.

These cases sometimes have lengthy delays. You must be “patient but persistent.” Keep in touch with the worker. Ask the worker if there is anything else you need to do. If not, be patient but keep in regular contact with the worker as the case unfolds.

How can relatives get involved in Abuse and Neglect cases in court?

Abuse and Neglect cases are confidential. Relatives are generally not included in these hearings unless the judge specifically allows it. You can file a Motion to Intervene and ask the Court to include you in the hearings. The Court may accept or deny your motion. This often depends on how far along the case has progressed.

Are relative/kinship homes possible placement choices for children?

Relatives can be possible placement choices. The DHHR will look at the relatives’ ability to provide and care for the child. The DHHR will do a home study and a background check before placing a child in anyone’s home. The process can be sped up for relatives, but to become a permanent placement option, the relative will likely need to be a certified foster parent.

Who is thought to be a relative/kinship?

Relatives and kinship individuals can include:

  • Any person related by blood or marriage
  • Cousins
  • In-laws
  • Godparents
  • Close family friends; or
  • Any person the child already knows and has a close bond with.

Are certain relatives preferred?

There is no federal or state law that requires children to be placed with blood relatives. However, there is a legal preference for grandparents, kinship and siblings. But, placement is based on the relative’s ability to care for the child, not just on the relative’s similar race, color, or national origin. Despite this “preference” in the law for relatives, the Court must always consider the child’s best interests. The DHHR should look at relatives early in the case.

What does grandparent preference mean?

West Virginia law requires that the DHHR look at the ability and wish of any known grandparent(s) to adopt the child.

Grandparents will have to go through a home study evaluation. Grandparents will also be interviewed by a social worker to see if they are a proper placement for the child.

What does sibling preference mean?

West Virginia law tries to keep siblings together.

Suppose an abused child’s sibling was placed in foster care or adopted sometime before the current events. DHHR must reach out to the family caring for the abused child’s sibling, to ask if that family wants to also take the abused child. However, if the abused child does not already have an existing bond with the sibling, the courts may choose not to place the child there.

What if CPS places a child with me, do I need to do anything?

It’s important to work with CPS and let them do a home study and background check.

Also, make sure that you give the child adequate clothing, shelter, food, and supervision. During the case, let the child continue her relationship with her parent(s) or legal guardian(s), unless CPS says otherwise.

DHHR most likely will offer some services to the child during the case. Talk with the child’s caseworker if you need more help or services to care for the child. Make sure to ask about financial help that may be available. Ask about becoming a certified foster parent. The child’s caseworker will better know what benefits are available to you and the child.

In some cases, you may be able to file a guardianship petition to care for the child permanently.

What happens if a relative’s home is going to be the placement for the child?

The worker must look at the relative’s ability to offer a safe and stable home for the child.

The worker will do this by doing a general safety and well-being check of the home. The worker will also check and make sure the relative is not involved in criminal activity.

Do relatives have to become certified foster parents?

The worker must always do a safety and well-being check on all possible home placements, temporary or permanent.

Relatives may become temporary placements without being certified as a “foster parent.” But to be the permanent placement, the relative will have to be certified to be a foster parent.

Once a relative becomes a certified foster parent, they may be eligible for payments from DHHR to help with the costs of caring for the child. The child’s caseworker will be the best resource to see if the financial assistance is available.

Can relatives get other help if they aren’t certified foster parents?

Yes. TANF “Child Only” payments, and Medicaid coverage for the child, ae available. There may also be other benefits available through DHHR. The child’s caseworker will be the best resource to answer these questions.

I have the child in my care, but an abuse and neglect case has been started against the parents in court. What is that?

Even if a child has been moved to a safe relative or friend, an abuse and neglect case can be filed against the parents. The parents will have to go to court. The court will decide whether or not the parents should keep their parental rights. The parents may be given “improvement periods” where they have the chance to become better parents in hopes of getting custody of their children back. While all of that happens, the children may be in the care of someone else. That person will need to go through the process we’ve described, to become either a temporary or a permanent placement for the affected children.

Where do Abuse and Neglect hearings take place?

Abuse and neglect hearings take place in circuit court. These are confidential hearings and happen in closed chambers.

Who gets a court-appointed attorney?

Parents are given court-appointed attorneys, because their parental rights are at stake. Sometimes both parents will have the same attorney. Sometimes each parent will have separate lawyers. This usually depends on the living situations of the parents.

The child may also be appointed a Guardian ad Litem (or “GAL”). The GAL speaks for the child’s best interest in the court proceedings.

Third parties such as relatives, foster parents, or potential adoptive parents ARE NOT given a court-appointed lawyer. However, they can hire an attorney or ask for legal advice on their own.

Who can be in the courtroom during the case?

Abuse and neglect cases are closed, confidential hearings. This means the hearing is not open to the public. Generally, the court will not let others in the courtroom and will not give them information about what happened in a hearing.

The only people allowed into the courtroom are:

  • The judge
  • A court reporter
  • A bailiff
  • The prosecuting attorney
  • The representative(s) from DHHR
  • The GAL
  • The parent(s) and their attorney(s)
  • Relatives, potential foster or adoptive families and their attorneys may attend, but only if the court has allowed them to intervene in the case.

How can relatives get involved in Abuse and Neglect cases in court?

Abuse and neglect casesa re confidential.  Relatives are generally not invluded in these hearings unless the judge specifically allows it.  You can file a Motion to Intervene and ask the Court to include you in the hearings.  The Court may accept or deny your motion.  This often depends on how far along the case has progressed.

What are possible results in an Abuse and Neglect case?

Many factors decide what the result will be in an abuse and neglect case. Here are possible endings that could happen in an abuse and neglect case:

  • The case can be dismissed and the child returned to the home with no further services;
  • The case can be dismissed and the family can be sent to a community agency for help, such as counseling, parenting skills, etc.;
  • The child can go back home, and the DHHR will supervise;
  • The DHHR, a private welfare agency, or an appropriate person can be chosen as guardian by the court and given temporary or permanent custody of the child;
  • Parental rights can be terminated and the child can be placed in custody of the non-abusing parent;
  • Permanent guardianship;
  • The child could be adopted if the parental rights are terminated.

Who should call Legal Aid?

If you are a relative or non-custodial parent of a child who is in an abuse and neglect case and have questions, you can contact Legal Aid to apply for help.

This is general legal information. For guidance about your situation, talk to a lawyer.