Consider this worst-case scenario. You are a new parent of a very young child. You are doing your best, but you are on your own and (let’s all face it) there is a learning curve to all parenting. You try to make a living, you try to make the child’s appointments, and you try to keep your own demons at bay for your baby.
Then, less than two years into all of this juggling, DCYF investigates based on an anonymous tip and, being overly cautious, removes your toddler from your home, what you do immediately and for the next six months is your entire case. Take this to heart: a DCYF case involving a very young child may last eighteen months or thirty months but it is won or lost in the first six months. This is because for a child of such a young age they will bond with whomever they are placed. By law, DCYF must place the child with a relative, if that is an option, and if no relative is available within the State of Rhode Island the state must place your child in “non-relative foster care” which just means a stranger who is licensed to take temporary placement and care of the toddler while the DCYF case progresses. The problem with a child of such tender years is that if removed from a parent’s home and placed elsewhere (assuming that the elsewhere home is fully able to meet the child’s minimum needs of shelter, food, basic medical care, early learning and affection) the child will immediately begin to bond with those relative foster parents, those strangers. Then very soon they aren’t strangers anymore.
If the parent requires extensive mental health treatment, substance abuse counseling, cannot secure adequate housing or is involved in a protracted criminal matter that must dispose before their Family Court DCYF case can be concluded, then that parent needs immediate legal representation. Even a parent who pivots deftly when the DCYF case opens, with the very best intentions who makes every effort to turn his or her life around on a dime runs a very real and heartbreaking risk that by the time that parent is fully ready to take the child back their child has already come to understand (in their toddler way) that the family they are currently placed with is their actual family. They just don’t know any better. They were so terribly young when they were taken away that they have only hazy impressions of your voice, your face, your laugh.
DCYF judges give this grave consideration. Children understand time very differently than we do. What is two months in rehab to a parent-in-need might as well be six years to a child.
Imagine the child’s perspective; your judge will.