WHAT IS REASONABLE EFFORTS?
I would first like to address the terms Reasonable Services and Reasonable Findings. Technically, or legally speaking, these terms refer to Reasonable Efforts. There are laws that require child welfare agencies to make reasonable efforts to provide services that will help families remedy the conditions that brought the child and family into the child welfare system, hence the term Reasonable Services. Once the case goes to court and presented to the Juvenile Judge, the judge will make a finding as to whether our agency made reasonable efforts for the family. This piece is commonly referred to as Reasonable Findings, although both are governed under Reasonable Efforts law, so the legally appropriate term is Reasonable Efforts.
Generally, these efforts consist of accessible, available, and culturally appropriate services that are designed to improve the capacity of families to provide safe and stable homes for their children. These services may include family therapy, parenting classes, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, respite care, parent support groups, and home visiting programs. Some commonly used terms associated with reasonable efforts include “family reunification,” “family preservation,” “family support,” and “preventative/prevention services.” All services offered to families are required to be written into their case plan, which is reviewed by the Juvenile Court Judge, and either approved or modified.
Reasonable Efforts require Child Welfare Agencies to offer and make available services to parents. Child Welfare Agencies do not have the power to force a parent to accept services, even when it is in the best interest of the parent and child. When a parent does not follow through with services offered, there is the potential that it may have impact on the judge’s decision as to if/when reunification is granted.
WHEN REASONABLE EFFORTS ARE REQUIRED
Federal law has long required State agencies to demonstrate that reasonable efforts have been made to provide assistance and services to prevent the removal of a child from his or her home and to make it possible for a child who has been placed in out-of-home care to be reunited with his or her family.
In many States, the statutes also require that when a court determines that family reunification is not in the best interests of the child, efforts be made to finalize another permanent placement for the child. While reasonable efforts to preserve and reunify families are still required, the child’s health and safety constitute the paramount concern in determining the extent to which reasonable efforts should be made.
EXCEPTIONS- WHEN REASONABLE EFFORTS ARE NOT REQUIRED
Under provisions of ASFA (Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997), reasonable efforts to preserve or reunify the family are not required when the court has determined any of the following:
• The parent subjected the child to aggravated circumstances as defined by State law. The definition of aggravated circumstances may include, but is not limited to, abandonment, torture, chronic abuse, and sexual abuse.
• The parent committed murder of another child of the parent.
• The parent committed voluntary manslaughter of another child of the parent.
• The parent aided or abetted, attempted, conspired, or solicited to commit such a murder or voluntary manslaughter.
• The parent committed a felony assault that resulted in serious bodily injury to the child or another child of the parent.
• The parental rights of the parent to a sibling of the child were terminated involuntarily.
ENSURING REASONABLE EFFORTS HAVE BEEN MADE
• This agency must be able to show proof to the court that the parent(s) have been referred to services that have been court ordered. In most cases, when the judge has found that Reasonable Efforts have NOT been made, it is because our agency did not refer the parent(s) to the court ordered services and did not provide visitation to the parents.
• This agency must develop an appropriate case plan- The case plan must be specifically tailored to fit the circumstances of each family and designed to eliminate those conditions which led to the juvenile court’s jurisdictional finding.
• This agency must establish an appropriate visitation schedule and other measures to ensure visits are facilitated and actually occur.
CONSEQUENCES IF REASONABLE EFFORTS HAVE NOT BEEN MADE
• Loss of federal funding- under federal law, an agency cannot be reimbursed for the cost of a child’s out- of-home care unless the reasonable efforts requirement is met. Federal funding of foster care maintenance payment for individual children is available only in cases where there has been a judicial determination that reasonable efforts to prevent placement or to reunify the family have been made.
• Agencies (DSS) may be ordered by the court to develop and implement a plan consistent with their statutory and constitutional obligations.
HOW DOES CONFIDENTIALITY AFFECT REASONABLE EFFORTS?
The services provided to the parents or family is confidential information. This means that social worker’s are not allowed to share information regarding what kinds of services the agency is providing to parents. This also prevents foster parents from asking biological parents or family members what services they are receiving from the agency. This is never acceptable, and in no way is the biological parent ever required to give this kind of information to a foster parent. Should a biological parent willingly provide this to a foster parent, the foster parent should inform the parent of their confidentiality, no matter how necessary this information may seem for the foster parent caring for the child.
It is important to say that this is in no way a punitive action toward the foster parent. This agency has a great appreciation and respect for every foster parent, and believes in working as a “team” even when laws restrict the amount of information we are allowed share with foster parents.