What is a Child Protective Proceeding on Long Island?
A child protective proceeding is commenced by a Long Island child protective agency with a petition in the family court in Nassau County or Suffolk County. If your county or city agency has a concern for abuse or neglect, it can petition the family court and begin an action against the parent or guardian who is suspected of abuse or neglect. The county or city agency is known as the petitioner, and the parent or caretaker that is suspected of abuse or neglect will be the respondent. The goal of these proceedings is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the child. Sometimes this means the court will have the parent or guardian address and correct problematic behaviors. If the parent or guardian cannot or does not correct abusive behaviors, the child may be removed from the home and placed into kinship or foster care.
How are Abuse and Neglect Defined in Long Island Courts?
Abuse is any behavior that results or is very likely to result in serious physical injury to the child, or any sexual offense. Neglect is a failure of the parent to adequately meet the child’s educational, medical, nutritional, or other basic needs.
How Does a Child Protective Proceeding Start?
Child Protective proceedings are initiated to determine whether the child is or may be in danger of abuse or neglect, and what action, if any, will be needed by the court to ensure the child’s safety. If child abuse or neglect is suspected by school faculty, doctors, neighbors, family members or friends, the suspicion may be reported to the local child protective agency. In fact, teachers, social workers, and many health professionals are “mandated reporters”, which means they are required to report any suspicions of child abuse or neglect. Once the suspicion is reported, the agency will explore the situation by meeting with the child and family and even visiting the home to see the child’s environment, and can open a formal investigation if it believes the allegations are founded.
In Nassau County and Suffolk County, the local child protective agency is called Child Protective Services (CPS), which is under the umbrella of the Department of Social Services. In the five boroughs of New York City, the agency is known as Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). CPS and ACS are government agencies that represent the interests of the state – namely, the prevention of child abuse and neglect. CPS or ACS will conduct an investigation in order to compile a report for the court’s review.
My Child was Removed from My Custody; What Do I Do Now?
While there is a strong public policy against child abuse and neglect, parents also have rights. Parents are encouraged to hire a family law lawyer in order to protect these rights. Minor children may also have legal representation by a law guardian, who can protect the child’s legal rights in court. All of these interested parties will appear before the court in a child protective proceeding. The court will consider the interests of all parties within the context of the law to determine the best possible outcome given then circumstances. The court will continue to monitor the progress of the family with periodic updates and hearings. All parents or guardians who face this type of situation are encouraged to speak to a family law attorney who can advise as to your best course of action in this sensitive situation.
What if the Child was Removed on an Emergency Basis?
Usually, a court order is required in order to remove the child from the home. However, in certain emergency situations in which there is an immediate risk to the health and safety of a child, CPS or ACS can remove the child from the home without a court order.
In these cases, the parent is entitled to a prompt hearing to determine the truth of the allegations, and whether a less severe action is appropriate. A court will hold a “fact-finding hearing” to determine whether abuse or neglect has been proven. A “dispositional hearing” will occur if abuse or neglect has been proven in order to determine the disposition of the child; in other words, the court will determine what services are needed for the family, and whether the child can remain at home with the respondent while those services are offered.
What are the Possible Outcomes of Child Protective Proceedings?
Depending upon the circumstances of each case, possible outcomes include:
(1) returning the child to the parents or guardians on conditions specified by the court, such as continued monitoring by the child welfare agency, or require that parents complete mental health or parenting programs
(2) child may be placed in foster care while services such as parenting classes or mental health treatment are provided to the parent
(3) releasing the child to a fit and willing relative who will care for the child (this is known as kinship care, which a court sees as preferable to foster care).
Parents who face intervention by a child protective agency may feel like they are in one of the most vulnerable positions of their lives, as their rights to parent their children are being threatened. However, parents should know that they do have rights, and that courts on Long Island wish to keep families together as much as possible so long as the child’s wellbeing is not at risk. It is important that any parent involved in such a proceeding take it seriously, but also that they know their legal rights.
What Can I Do to Help Me Keep My Children in My Custody?
The first thing that you should do is speak to an Long Island family law attorney who is familiar with child protective proceedings. An experienced attorney can assess your family situation in order to help you determine how to meet your goals. If you have a drug or alcohol problem, it is important to commit to and comply with treatment. Do your best to be a positive role model in your child’s life, not just to show the court you are willing and capable, but to be fully present to your child who loves you and relies upon you. Finally, cooperate with the court. Do as you are asked by the judge and follow all court orders. The court will be able to see your commitment to your child if you put in your full attention and effort into making things right.
Consult an Experienced Long Island Family Law Attorney
Because of the sensitive nature of such a proceeding, it is important that parents seek the counsel of a Long Island family law attorney experienced with representing parents in such proceedings. The Family Law Office of Robert E. Hornberger, Esq., P.C., is experienced with child protective proceedings and knows the rights of the parents involved. If you are involved in a child protective proceeding, contact our office at 631-923-1910 for a free consultation.
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