Child Abuse and the Child Welfare Program of the Deparment of Human Services
Authored By: Legal Aid Services of Oregon
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What should I do if my spouse or someone I live with is abusing my children?
Except as explained below, the law does not require you to report abuse to the police or to the Child Welfare Program of the Department of Human Services (DHS). But if you believe that your children are being abused by someone you live with, you should protect your children by contacting DHS, by making sure the abuser leaves and that your child gets treatment, or by urging the abuser to report the abuse or get counseling. You may also be able to get help from Parents Anonymous, a group for parents who have been involved with abuse situations. Your phone book or your local health department will have the phone number.
Certain people are required to report child abuse. Counselors, doctors, school employees, and other public and private officials are all required to report abuse or suspected abuse. Lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologist, and members of the clergy (priest, rabbi, minister, etc.) don't always have to report (if the law considers the information privileged).
If your children are being abused, you should get help right away. If you know that your child is being abused and you do not do anything to stop the abuse, you could lose custody of your child because of your failure to protect.
What should I do if my child is taken from me and placed in foster care?
Try to get an attorney right away to represent you. If you cannot afford a lawyer, ask the judge to appoint one for you. In some counties, almost all low-income parents get attorneys. If you are low-income and the Child Welfare Program of the Department of Human Services (DHS) has filed to permanently end your parental rights, you definitely have the right to have a court-appointed attorney.
Will there be court hearings if DHS takes my child?
Yes. The first hearing will take place within 24 hours, not counting weekends. The judge will decide if it is safe for your child to return home, or if you need any emergency services to make it safe to bring your child home. You have the right to be at this hearing and to tell the judge, by yourself or through your lawyer, why your child should or should not come home.
There will be another hearing approximately two months after the case starts, unless you tell the judge that you agree that DHS should have custody or that the court should have legal control ("wardship") of your child. The judge will also decide about plans and services for your child. You and your attorney have the right to participate at any hearings about custody and services. Later on, there will be reviews of your child's situation. You and your lawyer can ask for a hearing at any time to try to end the court's wardship or DHS's custody.
When do I get my child back?
When DHS or the judge believes that you can take care of the child. State and federal laws require DHS and the judge to act quickly, either to return your child or to make an alternative plan. You will need to act quickly, too, to get your child back.
If DHS has custody of my child, should I cooperate with them?
Yes. DHS has two duties when it takes custody of your child: (1) to look after your child's best interests, and (2) to help you as a parent solve the problems that led to DHS taking custody. If DHS believes you have solved your problems and can take care of the child, DHS will return your child to you. Sometimes the judge can order that your child be returned to you even if DHS disagrees. You should work closely with your lawyer to increase your chances of getting your child back quickly.
Can I visit my child who is in DHS's custody?
You will probably be allowed to have visits, but DHS will decide the kind of visitation that is allowed. Sometimes it is very limited. DHS may require the visits to be supervised.
If my child has been taken from me and placed in foster care or a state training school, do I have to pay for the child's support?
If you have enough money, you may be required to help support the child. You have the right to have a court or agency hearing if you disagree with the amount you are asked to pay.
Can DHS take away my child permanently?
Only a judge can take away your child permanently, but DHS can file legal papers to ask a judge to terminate (take away) your parental rights. If "termination of rights" papers are filed, you have a right to a court-appointed attorney if you cannot afford to hire one.
* The Family Law in Oregon booklet is available online at http://www.oregonlawhelp.org