Ashley B. Sexton
Your Family and DNA--and no, we're not talking about the double helix
Children have certain fundamental rights which must be protected and preserved. These rights include the right to adequate food, clothing, and shelter; education; and the right to be from abuse and injury. If there are suspicions or allegations of child abuse or neglect, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services is legally obligated to step in to ensure a child’s safety and wellbeing by performing an investigation.
Dependency, neglect, and abuse cases (collectively known as “DNA” cases) sometimes result in the child being removed from the home. This can be incredibly traumatic for both the child and parents alike. If you have been accused of neglect or are concerned for your child, you will need to work with an experienced family lawyer who will give the attention, dedication, and quality representation you will need during this stressful time.
WHAT’S THE PROCESS?
Being involved in a DNA case can be intimidating, but it helps to know what to expect. The process of a DNA case can be outlined as follows:
· Notification to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services that abuse or neglect may be taking place. This can be done anonymously via a Child Abuse Hotline or by notification from teachers, doctors, friends, or family members.
· Mandatory investigation by a social worker to assess if there is reason to believe abuse or neglect is occurring.
· Filing a petition for and presenting evidence of abuse or neglect in a temporary removal hearing. A temporary removal hearing determines if a child should temporarily placed in the custody of another family member or in foster care.
· Presentation of evidence in a bench trial, which determines whether or not the temporary removal was justified.
· A final hearing (disposition) in which the court determines a remedy for the situation. This may involve the termination of parental rights or reunification of the parent and the child.
WHAT’S A “GAL?”
A guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed by court to represent the best interests of the child. Attorneys can receive the necessary training from the Administrative Office of Courts and apply to serve on each Judge’s panel of appointed guardians ad litem. Additionally, attorneys who serve on the Court’s panel as appointed guardians ad litem also serve as attorneys for parents or custodians involved who financially qualify. Being a parent to your child is a constitutional right, therefore, because the government intervenes in that right, when parents are indigent and unable to hire an attorney, they are also appointed their own attorney to assist them through the process. If you do not qualify as indigent as a parent, it would benefit you greatly to hire an experienced attorney who practices DNA cases regularly to assist you in navigating through your case.
WHAT IS “CASA?”
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are volunteers who act as the eyes and ears of the court and as an advocate for the child. A CASA will get to know the child by talking to others involved in the child’s life, filing a written report with the court discussing the child’s issues and volunteer’s recommendations, and following up to make sure the court orders are followed appropriately.
The justice system is motivated to keep families together as much as possible. To facilitate this goal, they may order rehabilitative services for the parent, or supervised visitation rights to ensure that the parent and child relationship is preserved as much as possible while maintaining a secure environment for the child.
The goal behind DNA cases is reunification of parents with their children. It is not punitive in nature like a criminal case. This can be confusing for parents, as there are allegations against them and the Commonwealth is involved. Typically, if you follow your “case plan” (recommendations made by the Cabinet), you will regain custody of your children and your case will conclude.
To ensure your case goes smoothly, you’ll need an attorney who can navigate the complexities of Kentucky law. I am experienced in DNA work and serve on two panels as a court-appointed attorney. My clients priorities are my priorities, and as such, I will provide excellent legal counsel every step of the way.
To schedule an appointment, please call 859-479-2206, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I address the legal concerns of families throughout the Northern Kentucky area.
This blog post was a collaborative effort, with the talented Devin Perry pulling most of the weight (and be extremely patient with my delayed response due to emergencies in clients' cases).
Devin is a 2022 Juris Doctorate Candidate at Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law. In addition to her studies, Devin is the President of the Legal Association of Women and the VP of External Affairs at OutLaw.