Do I have to agree to DHR’s “safety plan?”
A reader e-mailed this question to me recently “Shane, the Department of Human Resources has approached me with some concerns over my child being around my new boyfriend. The DHR wants me to sign what they call a safety plan, where I agree that there are problems and that it is in my child’s best interest to stay with my parents for a while. Do I have to sign this safety plan?”
The short answer is no, you don’t have to sign anything with the DHR. If the DHR receives a call regarding a person and does an investigation, the worker in charge may decided that it is in the best interest of the children involved that certain things happen. For example, if the DHR receives complaints that a child is being physically abused, they may suggest to the parent that he or she attend anger management classes, parenting classes, take random drug tests if the worker suspects drugs are involved, or place the child with a family member for some period of time, etc. I say “suggest” because that is what the DHR is really doing at this point. The DHR will call them requirements, but the DHR does not really possess any authority to directly compel a person to do anything – that’s why the worker has you agree to enter into a “safety plan.” A safety plan is simply an agreement that you make with the DHR where you admit that there are problems and that you will agree to do certain things to remedy those problems. Hold on before you get too excited, though.
If a person refuses to agree to a safety plan, then the DHR can request what is known as a “pick up order” from the Juvenile Judge. Although DHR does not have the direct authority to take custody of children, the Judge does. If the judge reviews the evidence presented by DHR and decides that the child is in a dangerous situation, she can transfer temporary custody to the DHR. This almost always happens because at this point the DHR is the only one presenting any of the “evidence” to the Judge. The DHR worker will then arrive at the parent’s house with local law enforcement and “pick up” the child, placing him or her with another relative or in a foster home temporarily.
If the judge transfers temporary custody to the DHR, an initial hearing regarding the matter must be held within 72 hours. At this hearing, the DHR will attempt to show the judge that it had probable cause to request the transfer of custody. This is not a final hearing, and the court will only hear evidence pertaining to whether the DHR had probable cause to request the “pick up” order. The final hearing, where all the evidence is presented, must be held within 30 days of the custody transfer.
I usually tell people that if they refuse to sign the safety plan, in most circumstances the DHR will request temporary custody from the Judge, get it, and usually retain custody for at least 30 days. So, the parent’s choices are these – agree to do what the DHR asks or risk losing custody for at least 30 days. It is not an easy decision to make sometimes. If you are faced with this problem, you should seriously consider getting some advice from a lawyer.