“Reasonable efforts” has real meaning

A recent decision of the Court of Appeals illustrates a an omission of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services that seems all too common. In the unpublished opinion, M.G.F. II v. CHFS, 2006-CA-002093-ME (March 21, 2008)(NOT to be published), the Court remanded an involuntary termination of parental rights case because the Cabinet failed to evidence reasonable efforts to reunite the non-removal parent, the father. I have often seen this phenomena when children are removed from one parent and the non-residential parent either lives far away, is uninvolved, or has some “issues”. The Cabinet focuses on reunification with the parent of removal instead of devoting those efforts towards both parents. I suspect this is not so much an intentional omission, but more of a systemic problem.

Such a circumstance of divided households is one case on the worker’s caseload even though there are two separate parental residences. If a worker only gets credit for one case, what incentive is there to provide services to two households. That is double the work for the credit of one family. With caseloads stretched beyond reason and the government unwilling to sufficiently fund child protective services, the pressure to focus only on the residence of removal is significant.

Further exacerbating the problem, unless it has been changed since my time, the computer system used by the Cabinet (TWISt: The Worker Information System) automatically makes the parent the child was removed from active as well as the children. A non-residential parent is not put into the referral screens because no allegation are made against them. TWISt captures data, including face to face contacts, with each active individual in the case. This information is used to generate reports to measure compliance with Federal regulations that tie payments of block grant monies to Kentucky. The reports are also used to measure an individual worker’s performance. TWISt has no idea if these face to face visits actually occur; it is an honor system that expects employees to input accurate data even if it is going to hurt their employment situation.

One way to prevent low numbers of contacts, but still be technically truthful, is to forget to add a parent who does not live in the home of removal as an active individual. This means there is no tracking of services to that person. Whether this occurred in MGF’s situation is unknown, but the point remains.

Now, the factual background provided in the MGF case do not show if the scenario I laid out above applies. All the case reveals is that the Cabinet did not put forth substantial evidence that they provided services to the father, MGF, to assist him in obtaining custody of his children. I make the inferential leap that if such evidence was able to be offered up, it would have been.

MGF is no father of the year by any stretch. He allowed a couple of years to pass with only four phone calls to his children. Even when they were moved to within 20 miles of him, he did not go visit them. Regardless, the Cabinet was under the duty to provide services to help him get up to speed as a father. No evidence of this duty being discharged was entered into the record and so the court remanded the case for further proceedings.

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One Response to “Reasonable efforts” has real meaning

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