The State of Rhode Island has enacted administrative and legal methods for intervening in a parent’s parental and custodial rights if a child is being neglected or abused. Generally, the state Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) will be notified about the suspicion of child abuse or neglect, and then begin an investigation. If the DCYF investigators confirm that it appears abuse or neglect is occurring, the agency can petition a Family Court to intervene and place the child in a safe custodial environment while the DCYF and the parents attempt to resolve the allegedly abusive or neglectful environment. If the parents fail to meet the expectations of the DCYF caseworkers, the agency may seek to permanently terminate the parent’s parental rights to place the children in the permanent custody of another person who the state sees as fitter to care for the child. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently affirmed a Family Court’s decision to permanently terminate the parental rights of a man who was found unfit to parent his child.
The appellant in the recently decided appeal is the natural father of a nine-year-old boy who has been the subject of a DCYF investigation that was opened in 2018 as a result of the appellant reporting the child’s mother for neglect. As part of their investigation, the DCYF convinced the family court to temporarily place the child in the custody of his maternal grandmother. In late 2018, the DCYF created a case plan for the father to participate in to demonstrate his ability to properly care for the child as his primary custodian. The DCYF requested that the father attend substance abuse and mental health treatment, and participate in supervised visits through a parenting program. Although the father did attend some treatment appointments and scheduled visits, he ultimately abandoned the case plan.
In January 2020, the DCYF filed a petition to terminate the father’s parental rights and have the child permanently placed in the care of his grandmother. After a six day trial, the Family Court granted the DCYF petition, finding that the father was not fit to care for his son and that it was in the child’s best interests to be permanently placed in the custody of his maternal grandmother. The father appealed the Family court ruling, arguing that he was justified in abandoning the DCYF case plan, and that he was a fit father. The Supreme Court found that the findings of the lower court were valid, ruling that the father’s objections, while valid, were not sufficient to overcome the judgment of the family court. As a result of the appellate opinion, the father’s parental rights are permanently terminated.
Child welfare and termination proceedings are stressful, and undesired rulings can be permanent and devastating to a parent. The DCYF is notorious for treating parents arbitrarily, and individual case workers may make vastly different findings from each other, depending on their personal biases. Any parent facing a child welfare proceeding should seek competent legal counsel to assist them in maintaining custody of their child and protecting their parental rights. DCYF case workers and court-appointed psychologists should not simply be accepted and believed without further investigation. A qualified family law attorney can ensure that qualified experts offer testimony in each case, and prevent a DCYF claim from going off the rails.
If you or a loved one is facing a Rhode Island child welfare investigation or termination proceeding, it is essential to retain an experienced Rhode Island family law attorney early in the process to ensure your case proceeds fairly. The knowledgeable family law and child welfare attorneys with Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP understand how to assist our clients in convincing the courts to retain custody and parental rights of their children. With our guidance and support, you can protect your parental rights and get the DCYF and the courts off of your back. If you have questions about a Rhode Island family law issue, we’re here to help. Call us at 401-300-4055 for a free consultation.