Mr. Ngoze was an elementary school vice-principal at a Catholic elementary school. He had held the position for the past six years and had received stellar reviews from the staff, the parents and the students loved him. Last year, just before Christmas, Mr. Ngoze’s daughter, Osumba, seemed sad at school. When her teacher asked her why, she was reluctant to talk. So her teacher asked her if someone had hurt her. Still reluctant to talk, her teacher asked if someone had hit her? At this point, Osumba said she was sad because her Dad had yelled at her because she lost her sweater and that he had beaten her. It is significant to note that while Osumba told the teacher that her Dad hit her with his hand on the legs, the teacher noted a scar on her hand and a bruise on her arm.
Teachers are required to report suspected neglect and abuse to the authorities better known as the Division of Child Protection and Permanency or DCP&P. The next thing Mr. Ngoze knew, DCP&P appeared at his school to question him. His vice principal’s license was suspended by the State rendering him unemployed. DCP&P removed Osumba from her school and from his home placing the child with her maternal grandmother. DCP&P advised Ngoze that he should not go to the grandmother’s house even though they lived in the same high-rise apartment building and that he should have no contact with the daughter less he risk further “issues.” DCP&P filed a Complaint and an Order to Show Cause. By anyone’s standard, Ngoze’s NIGHTMARE had begun!
While a lawyer will be appointed to represent you in abuse and neglect cases, Mr. Ngoze was able to afford private counsel and retained a lawyer right away. When I spoke with Mr. Ngoze, his first comment was that his daughter could not have accused me of “beating her.” “Can they really do that, remove her from our home?” “Without any proof?” The short answer is “Yes.” If DCP&P believes that you have abused or neglected your child, if you have seriously harmed or created a serious risk of harm to your child, they may want to place or keep your child in foster care or another out-of-home placement until it feels the child can return home to you safely.
The Order to Show Cause requires a hearing on very short notice the purpose of which is for DCP&P to show good reasons why your child should be kept in placement while your case proceeds. If DCP&P makes such a showing, the judge will order that your child should be kept in placement. Next, the court sets a date for a fact-finding hearing where DCP&P will try to prove to the judge by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) that you have abused or neglected your child. The Fact-Finding is where you have the best chance of ending the nightmare! This is where you need to use all of your resources, and all of your energy to place before the judge your best case. While in theory it is that DCP&P must prove abuse and neglect, in the real world, you need to present facts and counter arguments to prove your innocence. You need to mount the most vigorous defense possible because after this hearing the “FACTS” of the case will be established. The facts will be the facts for the remainder of the case. There will be no additional opportunity to establish the facts.
In the event that DCP&P prevails at the fact-finding, the judge will convene a Dispositional hearing where he will decide what happens next. No, this is not the end. There will be review hearings. They are going to check on your progress and advise the judge that you have, for example, had ten random drug tests all of which were negative. Or that you have attended all sessions of anger management; that you have taken your child to each of the therapy appointments. On approximately a year, DCP&P has to make a decision. Sometimes, the child is returned, but parent has to accept some services. Sometimes the child will be returned upon the parent’s successful completion of “anger management” or “drug or alcohol rehabilitation,” or you move the boyfriend who is listed on the sex offender list out of the home.”
Don’t forget the role of the Child Placement Review Board which serves as a community overseer of DCP&P. The Board is composed of court-appointed volunteers whose job it is to monitor placements outside the home for appropriateness and safety of the child. Board members are chosen to reflect the diversity of the county where they reside. Each county has a CPR Board. Board members receive training before assuming a position on the board and every year they serve on the board. The Child Placement Review Board will review each placement for: A) the health and safety of the child; B) the circumstances of the placement; and, C) any obstacles that could prevent DCP&P from finding a safe and permanent placement for the child. In addition, the Board will consider whether DCP&P 1) has met or provided resources for the specific needs of the child; 2) placed the child with siblings; 3) Promoted sufficient visitation with parents and any siblings; 4) attempted to place the child with relatives; and, 5) scheduled a medical examination for the child. The CPR Board provides a Neutral, third-party review of each placement to ensure it is in the best interest of the child. If the placement is not in the best interest of the child, the Board will include that conclusions and the reasoning in the recommendation to the court.
Either DCP&P will close the case and return your child to you, and you can begin to breathe a sigh of relief, or DCP&P will move to terminate your parental rights and perhaps place your child up for adoption. At the Permanency Hearing, DCP&P will present a plan for the permanent living situation for your child and the judge will decide whether or not to approve the plan. Please know that at every stage of the process, you have the right to a vigorous advocate, and clearly, the fight against terminating parental rights should be the biggest fight of all.
Fortunately, Mr. Ngoze, his case ended at the fact-finding, but not before walked through Mr. Ngoze’s house; looked in every drawer and every closet; opened the refrigerator; looked in every cabinet; interviewed neighbors; spoke with Osumba’s pediatrician. Fortunately, the nightmare ended five months after it started, and while Mr. Ngoze lost his dignity and his job, his family remained intact. And, as DCP&P says, “all’s well that ends well!”
Suggestions! If this ever happens to you do this: