Monday, April 28, 2014

How DCFS Makes Removal Decisions

Last week I attended a Court Improvement Program meeting whereat the DCFS gave an update on the implementation of the Structured Decision Making (SDM) Program.  There are 5 assessments that the SDM Programs covers:

  • Intake Assessment.  This assessment has not yet been implemented because the referral system is being overhauled to become web-based.
  • Safety Assessment.  This assessment is made at the time a case worker first encounters a family.  It is essentially a decision regarding whether a child can remain at home or needs to be removed.  You can see above a diagram of the three categories families will fall into.  For those who are safe, no services are needed, for those who are conditionally safe in home services are appropriate, for those who are unsafe foster care services are necessary.
  • Risk Assessment.  This is an assessment to determine whether services can continue.  The chart below shows how the safety and risk assessments work together.  
  • Risk Reassessment.  This assessment is a continuation of the Risk Assessment and made sometime after the initial risk assessment.
  • Reunification Assessment.  This assessment has not yet be implemented.

The Safety Assessment, Risk Assessment and Risk Reassessment have all been implemented statewide as of December 2012.  DCFS is continuing to work on fidelity to the model with their case workers.  The SDM Program has been successfully implemented in other jurisdictions and has resulted in lower removal rates and allowed states to focus their services on the families who really need them.  The goal is to have a removal rate in 4% of cases.  As of January 2014, Utah had a removal rate of 4.12%.

The SDM Program is good for parents and their attorneys because it provides the underlying reasoning of DCFS caseworkers decisions.  If you are not asking for the SDM assessments mentioned above in your cases we hope you will continue to push for them.

If you are interested in a CLE training on how the safety and risk assessments work, you can sign up for a 3 hour online training below.  It's $35.00 for 3 hours of CLE.  Use the discount code: annualconf for $10 off.

Spotlight: Jose Silva

My name is Jose Silva.  I am a fulltime parental defense attorney out of the Fourth District Juvenile Court in Orem Utah.  I am assigned to Judge Noonan's court room.  I have been involved with the juvenile courts for over thirteen years and have been full time with the Utah County Public Defender's Association as a Parental Defense attorney since 2009.

Over the many years working in the juvenile court I have not only learned to love the work but also have become very passionate about parental rights.  With so many judges marching to "save babies" its important to remember and fight for the God given and Constitutional rights of a parent to raise a child as they feel is best, that being the norm and the exception being State involvement.

My most visible case was HUBNER early in my career.  It involved a out of state non custodian father who the State repeatedly failed to locate and serve Notice of the State's involvement with his children.  Only until the mother's right were terminated did the State serve the father with Notice of his TPR trial. His rights were terminated and the Utah Court of Appeals reversed the TPR sighting 13+ due process violations by the State. Not many victories like that in this business.

However, I believe my most successful case was more recent when after shelter hearing and removal of the children, I was able to convince the State to return the children and dismiss their petition entirely, closing the case.  It is always better to cut State involvement at the earliest moment.

My advice to any attorney thinking of practicing in this field would be to negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. The less left up to the judges on your cases the better for your clients, generally.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What You Do Is Important

This is a wonderful video about the importance of legal representation for indigent parents in child welfare cases.  It even features Utah's Judge William A. Thorne of the Utah Court of Appeals.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Spotlight: Jordan Putnam

Name: Jordan Putnam

Firm: Lokken & Associates, P.C.

County Contract: Our office has the contract for Salt Lake County.

Something you love about being a parental defender: I enjoy being able to help parents who love their children and want to change their lives, but struggle due to mental health, substance abuse or issues. As their attorney, I am in a unique position to walk them through the process, while ensuring that their rights are safeguarded. Often times, I am the only person they will listen to. It's amazing to see how strong people are and how much they can overcome. It's very rewarding when a case is successfully closed and to witness the changes that occur within a person from the beginning to the end of a case.

A tip or trick: Communicate, communicate, communicate. Just as in every other area of the law, clients want to know what is going on with their case and that you (their attorney) are on top of it. Good client communication can be the difference between a happy client and an angry client. It can be the difference between a successful case and an unsuccessful case.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spotlight: Eric K. Johnson

Your name: Eric K. Johnson

Where you practice: Statewide

Whether you have a county contract or not: no county contract

Something you love about being a parental defender: keeping the state honest

A case where you were able to successfully advocate a good outcome for a client: One of my favorite experiences was exposing a GAL for claiming to have spoken with a minor child client and made recommendations based upon the purported discussion, when in fact the GAL had never spoken to the child.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Children's Justice Symposium/UPC Domestic Violence Conference

On May 13-15, 2014, the Utah Children's Justice Center and Utah Prosecution Council are holding a conference on abuse and domestic violence.
The Children's Justice Symposium / UPC Domestic Violence Conference is a cooperative effort by the Utah Children's Justice Center Program and the Utah Prosecution Council to provide a venue for professionals from law enforcement, the legal community, child and family protective services, Children's Justice Centers, state and local government agencies, medical and mental health professionals, community groups, educational organizations, advisory boards and committees and non-profit and fund-raising associations to gather, learn about, and discuss topics, issues and concerns related to their work.
The cost of the conference is $90 until April 18, 2014 and $105 thereafter.  You can register and find more information HERE.

Spotlight Contest: Get $20 Off Online CLE

We are so pleased to announce the winner of our spotlight contest: Joyce Smith.  Congratulations Joyce!  We hope you enjoy your new iPad mini. You can view Joyce's spotlight submission HERE.

We will be posting the rest of the entries each week which will allow all of us to get to know the parental defenders around the state.

You can still send us your profile.  As an incentive, we will give you a discount code worth $20 off the Structured Decision Making training that is now available online.

To send a profile use your phone (or other recording device) to create a video profile of yourself OR create the profile in writing and include a photo.

Each profile should include:

1.  Your name,
2.  Where you practice,
3.  Whether you have a county contract or not, and
4.  At least two of the following:
          a.  Something you love about being a parental defender,
          b.  a case where you were able to successfully advocate a good outcome for a client, or
          c.  A tip or trick in practicing parental defense law that could benefit others.    

Email your submission to Kate Hansen at  [Note: If your file is too big to email, let Kate know and she can make other arrangements for the submission such as a google doc or dropbox folder.]

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Online Structured Decision Making Training Is Finally Ready

Last fall the DCFS trained some of our attorneys on the new structured decision making process that is being used statewide to make safety and risk assessments by DCFS caseworkers.

The PDA feels that this is an important training for all parental defense attorneys and provides vital information that can help you better advocate for your clients.

To that end we have made the training available online.  The cost of the training is $35.00 and includes 3 hours of self-study CLE for the state of Utah.  Click below to register.

DISCOUNT CODE: For those of you who attended the annual conference you can use the code "annualconf" and get $10.00 off!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Utah Resource for Clients with Disabilities

Back in February we posted some information on how to help clients with disabilities.  Brent Hall, one of the parental defenders for Salt Lake County, has been in touch with the Disability Law Center and has some suggestions on how to use this local resource to help clients:

The Disability Law Center recently reached out to me.  They wanted to inform parental defenders how they might be able to help our clients.  There are three main ways they can help.  

1) Incarcerated client with mental health issues.  The DLC has access to clients in jails and prisons.  If your client is reporting that they can’t access their mental health medications or treatment then the DLC might be able to help.  

2) Problems with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).  If a school district isn’t following a child’s IEP the DLC may be able to help with enforcement.  

3) Housing and employment discrimination.  If your client is reporting problems with housing and employment due to a disability (including mental health), then the DLC might be able to help.  

There might be other creative ways we can utilize their help.  If you think you have an issue they can help with contact Camille Coon at

Brent Hall