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Chapter 2

STATE CUSTODY OF A YOUTH DUE TO DEPENDENCY, NEGLECT AND/OR ABUSE
(ADOPTION)

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE IN DCYF CARE AFTER I AM REMOVED FROM MY HOME?

—> The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) is a state agency funded by the legislature to provide placements for children who are unable to live with their parents for a variety of reasons that have been discussed in this Handbook.

WHAT IS A DEPENDENT CHILD?

—> A dependent child means any child or youth who needs protection and assistance from the Family Court because his or her physical or mental health or welfare is harmed, or threatened with harm, due to the inability of the parent or guardian, through no fault of their own, to provide a minimum degree of care and proper supervision for the child.

WHAT CONSTITUTES NEGLECT?

—> A neglected youth is one who requires the protection and assistance of the Family Court because the parents or guardian have failed to supply the youth with adequate care or abandons the youth.(31)

WHAT IS ABUSE?

—> Physical abuse of a minor child may begin by an act of punishment of discipline that an adult thinks is necessary to reduce misconduct by the child. It becomes illegal abuse when it becomes an out of control act including violent shaking, slapping, pinching, biting, punching or hair pulling that results in physical injury to the child. Evidence of physical abuse can include bruises, broken bones, injuries and death.(32)

WHAT IS SEXUAL ABUSE?

—> Sexual abuse is the illegal touching of your body by an adult who may be a family member, adult friend, or anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable. No one has the right to touch you. You have an absolute right to tell a person trying to touch you that NO, they may not touch you. This conduct can result in criminal sexual assault and rape charges against the adult. You may also be protected by the state which will step in and remove you from an unsafe home, if your parents fail to protect you from a sexual predator.(33)

WHAT IS INCEST?

—> Incest is the attempt to have sexual intercourse or other sexual contact between you and a blood relative. It is a crime that is underreported because the victim feels ashamed to tell someone. It is important that you do not keep incest a secret, but talk to any adult whom you trust and report the relative who is engaging in such criminal behavior.

IS THERE SUCH A THING AS EMOTIONAL ABUSE?

—> Yes. Emotional abuse can include name calling, screaming and yelling, or a pattern of ignoring you with the result that you feel badly about yourself most of the time. It is very difficult to define as it may or may not be intentional. Sometimes adults simply need to be educated about the emotional consequences of their behavior, even if they think that their reasons are appropriate. Other times the adult has serious emotional problems leading to emotionally abusive behavior and it is in your best interests to be removed from the place where that adult resides if there is a serious risk of harm if you remain.

WHAT IS A CASE PLAN?

—> A case plan is a written document that defines what you and your family will need to do to solve the problems that led to your removal from your home. DCYF is required to have a case plan for you within thirty (30) days of your removal from your home. The case plan must describe the long term goal for your welfare, type of foster care you will be assigned, what services are helpful to you and a statement of why those services are appropriate for you and your family, a visitation schedule for parents and siblings, and a transitional independent living plan if you are sixteen (16) years of age or older, as will be discussed later.

WHAT HAPPENS IF MY PARENTS DO NOT FOLLOW THE CASE PLAN?

—> A parent's failure to follow a case plan could result in a parent's loss or termination of parental rights. Parental rights are terminated after evidence is heard and a court has made a final determination. You would then be placed in foster care or other appropriate placement until a permanent home is arranged. Children whose biological parents' rights have been terminated are available for adoption by other families. If you are over fourteen (14), you would have to consent to an adoption before it is granted.

WHAT IS OUT-OF-HOME CARE?

—> If you are removed from your home by the state through DCYF because you are being abused or neglected, or your parents are otherwise unable to take care of you, you will be placed in foster care or with a relative, if appropriate. Foster care may also include a shelter, group home or residential placement if you are not able to live with a family member or foster family. A foster home is designed to provide a family setting. A group home is a residence where you live with other children. Kinship care is a home with relatives other than your parents.

WHAT IS AN INDEPENDENT LIVING PROGRAM (ILP)?

—> An Independent Living Program is a program specifically designed to help you develop the skills you need to live independently. It is offered to youth sixteen (16) years of age or older who are in out-of-home care. The program is described in a written transitional independent living plan, which is part of your case plan. It includes life skills training and connects you to a community support system to help meet your individual needs.

WHAT IS TRANSITIONAL HOUSING?

—> Traditional housing is a type of housing available to youth who are between the ages of sixteen (16) and twenty-one (21) who are seeking to achieve independence. This type of housing may include community based apartments that are supervised by private agencies and are funded by DCYF. If you require more intensive supervision, you could be placed in an apartment where staff are available on a full-time basis.

WHO HAS LEGAL CUSTODY OF ME IF I AM REMOVED FROM MY PARENTS?

—> Depending on the order from a Family Court judge, the state will usually be granted legal custody of you after you have been removed from your parents' home. This means that child welfare officials will make decisions regarding your health, education and welfare. Your parents may be required to sign releases and give permission. Physical custody means the place where you live and who is supervising you on a daily basis. (35)

There are two ways the state gains legal custody of you if your parents are not able to care for your basic needs: 1.) Voluntary placement - when your parents agree to let DCYF take care of you and 2.) Court placement - when the court grants custody of you to DCYF because you have been abused or neglected. The judge decides when you can return to your parents after a reunification plan has been worked out solving the problems that led to your removal from your home. (35)

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE OFFICE OF THE CHILD ADVOCATE IN RHODE
ISLAND?

—> The Office of the Child Advocate is a state agency responsible for protecting the legal rights of children in state care. They monitor placement facilities, DCYF policies, as well as budget and legislative matters that affect children in the care of DCYF.

The Office of the Child Advocate has published a brochure for you called the Children's Bill of Rights, which highlights areas of your legal rights while you are in state care. These rights include your every day physical needs, the location of your placement, educational rights, and your special right to dignity. (36)

You may call the Office of the Child Advocate for a copy of this brochure at (401) 222-6650, or click the orange link in the paragraph above.

WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS IF I AM PLACED IN A RESIDENTIAL FACILITY?

—> Some examples of your legal rights, more fully described in the Children's Bill of Rights, while you are in state care, are as follows:

-You have a right to receive mail

-Your basic needs for food, clothing and shelter must be met

-You may have visits with your family as part of your case plan

-You have a right to contact your attorney, guardian ad litem, clergy member of a representative of the Office of the Child Advocate.

-You have a right to receive substance abuse treatment.

-You have a right to an appropriate education.

DO I HAVE THE RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY IN A DEPENDENCY/NEGLECT AND/OR ABUSE CASE?

—> You have the right to an attorney to represent your best interest. A guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed through the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program administered by the Court. A guardian ad litem is an adult who speaks on your behalf to the judge. Your CASA attorney will inform you of your legal rights and will represent your interest in court. (37)

Discuss any concerns regarding your case with your CASA attorney.

WHAT CAN I DO IF I AM BEING ABUSED AT A DCYF PLACEMENT?

—> If you are unhappy where you are, you can request another placement from DCYF. You should immediately report any abuse or mistreatment in your placement to your caseworker or the DCYF hotline at 1-800-RI-CHILD (1-800-742-4453). Depending on the circumstances, you may be moved immediately.

WHAT ARE THE LEGAL RIGHTS OF CHILDREN WHO ARE VICTIMS OF CRIMES?

—> If you have been the victim of certain crimes, there is a program to help you with the costs of your medical and counseling expenses, as well as lost wages resulting from the crime. This program administers the current law, which provides compensation to victims who have suffered physical or emotional injury in violent crimes in Rhode Island. The dependents and immediate family members of a homicide victim may also recover lost wages, burial costs and counseling expenses for survivors.(38) The Crime Victims Compensation Program can be reached by calling (401) 222-2287.

If you were victimized before September 1, 1999, you may also be eligible for financial compensation for pain and suffering under a previous law now administered by the Crime Victims Compensation Program.

HOW DO I FILE A CLAIM FOR CRIMINAL COMPENSATION UNDER THIS
PROGRAM?

—> You must report the crime to law enforcement authorities within ten (10) days and make application for compensation within one (1) year of the crime. This period will be extended if you were a minor at the time of the crime. You must cooperate with the reasonable request of investigators and the attorney prosecuting the crime.(39)

IS THERE ANY WAY I COULD LOSE MY ELIGIBILITY FOR CRIME VICTIM COMPENSATION UNDER THIS PROGRAM?

—> Yes. If you have contributed to the crime or you have been imprisoned or convicted of a violent crime yourself, you may lose your right to recover compensation.(40)

WHAT EXPENSES ARE COVERED UNDER THE CRIME COMPENSATION
PROGRAM?

—> Expenses not otherwise covered by insurance or other resources available to you, are covered by the program and include medical, dental, mental health treatment, hospital expenses, funeral and burial expenses, a victim's loss of earnings and loss of support. There is a limit of $25,000 that you may recover even if your expenses add up to more than that amount.(41)

Money for pain and suffering is not awarded under the current law, but may be available to victims of crimes that occurred before September 1, 1999.

WHAT IS ADOPTION?

—> Adoption is the judicial act of creating the relationship of parent and child where it previously did not exist.

Children become available for adoption by various routes. Birth parents may be emotionally, financially or physically unable to care for their children and voluntarily place their child with the state to be adopted by another family. Birth parents may be unable to care for the children and have to involuntarily surrender their rights to their children to the state against their wishes. DCYF can file a petition to end or terminate a parent's right if they cannot be reunified with the child despite DCYF's efforts to assist the parents. The biological parents' rights must be legally and permanently ended or terminated by a Family Court order before the child may be adopted.

An adoptee is the person who has been adopted. The birth parent is the person who is the biological mother or father of a child. If an adoptee in Rhode Island is fourteen (14) years or older, their consent to the adoption is required.

WHAT ARE THE IDENTITY AND PRIVACY RIGHTS OF ADOPTED CHILDREN?

—> Once parental rights of the birth parents are ended or terminated, the child is no longer entitled to financial support or inheritance from the birth parents. The birth parents are no longer permitted to visit or be part of their child's new life. Birth parents often claim to have a right to privacy, which prevents their child, or the adoptive parents, with whom the child has been placed from being able to locate or communicate with them.

WHAT IS OPEN ADOPTION?

—> When there is a significant emotional attachment between the child and the birth parents, the adoptive parents have agreed or consented, the court can order post-adoption privileges, allowing the birth parents to visit and have information privileges about the child they placed for adoption. The court must determine that such an arrangement is in the best interest of the child. If the child is at least twelve (12) years of age, his or her agreement and consent to the post-adoption privileges must be obtained as well.(45)

WHAT IS GENETIC AND SOCIAL HISTORY?

—> Genetic and social history is a comprehensive report regarding the birth parents, their parents, siblings and other children without revealing names and identifying information. The history includes medical history, health status, cause of death if deceased, ethnic origins, religion, height, weight, eye and hair color, of the family of origin. Health history is a comprehensive report regarding the child's medical history and the status at the time of the placement, including psychological issues.

CAN I DISCOVER MY GENETIC AND SOCIAL HISTORY FROM MY BIRTH PARENTS AFTER I HAVE BEEN PLACED FOR ADOPTION?

—> Rhode Island has recognized that adopted children or their adoptive parents have a right to know more about the adopted child's birth family. This right must be balanced with the recognized right to privacy of the birth parents. The legislature has created a "Passive Voluntary Adoption Reunion Registry" in which birth parents, or their surviving relatives, if the birth parents are deceased, and the adult adoptee, may register with the state indicating their willingness to release limited information. This information may relate to health, social and genetic history of birth parents or others, but not their names.(44) Both parties must register for information to be released. If both parties agree, identifying information can be disclosed.

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MAINTAING ADOPTION RECORDS IN RHODE ISLAND?

—> The Adoption Registry is maintained by the Rhode Island Family Court. All records of any adoption finalized in Rhode Island are permanently maintained by the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).(45)

HOW DOES A PERSON GAIN ACCESS TO RECORDS REGARDING ADOPTION IN RI?

—> Similar to other states, Rhode Island will not disclose information in adoption records maintained by the state unless a court has ordered that the person seeking the information has established a right to that information.(46)

WHAT REMEDY IS AVAILABLE TO AN ADOPTIVE FAMILY WHO HAS  EARNED THAT IMPORTANT INFORMATION CONCERNING MEDICAL OR GENETIC HERITAGE OF THE ADOPTEE WAS NOT PROVIDED ABOUT THE CHILD WHO WAS LATER ADOPTED?

—> Rhode Island has joined other states in declaring that once an agency in the business of arranging adoptions begins to provide or volunteer any information about a child to prospective adoptive parents, a legal duty is created that includes refraining from making negligent or careless misrepresentations about the child's or biological parents' medical medical and genetic background.

The agency can be held responsible for failure to disclose relevant information when asked by adoptive parents before the adoption is finalized. A lawsuit may be maintained against the adoption agency for money damages in a Rhode Island court to cover the medical and other expenses for the child's future treatment and care.

By providing a solution for negligent misrepresentation of a child's medical and genetic heritage, it is believed that the legislature and courts strengthen and uphold the integrity of the adoption process.(47)

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Page updated 17-Sep-2004