Reasonable efforts were written into the Adoption and Safe Family Act in 1980. They are services the state agency provides to either prevent removal of children from the home or to reunify children with parents. Looking at whether or not reasonable efforts have been made is a way to keep those involved focused on the best interests of children and families while tying it to a financial incentive.
Family Court judges review cases of children in foster care at least once a year and will decide whether child protective services (CPS) provided appropriate and timely services to the children and parents (reasonable efforts). If the court finds that CPS has not provided reasonable efforts, CPS risks losing federal funding. Of course, not offering services is not in the child’s best interest.
For example, three children, all under the age of six, were removed from their mother for chronic neglect, a common scenario seen by CPS. The father or fathers of the children were not involved. A neighbor called authorities after seeing the children wandering in the street with little clothing in the early evening.
CPS found the home to be extremely unkempt and dirty with no food or electricity. The mother appeared to be under the influence of drugs. The children were immediately placed into a foster home and CASA was appointed by the judge.
CASA and the social worker shared information regarding the children and mother. The social worker did an absent parent search for the father who was eventually located. He agreed to attend court and participate with court-ordered services. Counseling for both parents were ordered along with a substance abuse evaluation and parenting classes. Supervised visits were ordered.
After two years, the parents were able to fulfill all court orders exemplifying stability. The children were placed back in their parents’ custody and CPS was court ordered to monitor the case for at least 60 days, while CASA planned to stay involved a bit longer. The judge found that reasonable efforts had been made and these helped reunify the family.
CPS exists to keep children safe and reunify families when appropriate. If it becomes necessary for children to be removed from their homes, it is almost always best to try to reunify as quickly and as safely as possible through services such as counseling, parenting classes, batterers intervention programs, CASA, SAFY therapeutic services and many others. All of these are naturally recommended based on the investigation of the case and the presenting problem.
Another example of reasonable efforts is of an 8-year-old girl whose father was not involved and a mother whose relationships were marred by domestic violence and drugs. The little girl was removed and placed with fictive kin, a friend of the family. She prospered in this home and after a year the mother had not progressed with compliance or treatment. The court found that reasonable efforts no longer needed to be extended to mother because of her inability and unwillingness to follow them. The next step would be for the court to allow permanent custody to the fictive kin.
Studies from the Children’s Welfare Information Gateway show that each time a child is moved from one home to another, whether it be the initial removal between foster homes, there is a loss in development including education, emotional, or physical well-being. Children can be re-traumatized in foster care and sometimes slip through the cracks of the system.
CASA volunteers need to advocate for the least amount of moves possible so that children may have stability while waiting on their parents’ rehabilitation. They must recommend services that will help rehabilitate, heal and reunify when in the child’s best interest.