Help Navigating DHS Child Welfare

Each family situation is unique. You may need only brief assistance since most children living with relatives or in foster care return home within a short time. You may need help with resources and services over a number of months in order to care for your relative child.

When the child is in DHS Child Welfare custody, a caseworker evaluates the child’s and parent’s needs and your situation to assess what support you require to care for the child. This is a critical time in the case, and your active participation is essential to successful case planning. Services are available within DHS and in your community to meet the needs of the entire family.

For answers to legal questions please visit our Legal Guide.

When there are safety issues in the home that a family is unable to resolve alone, court intervention may be required. State and federal laws define what constitutes child abuse and neglect.

If a child has been removed from home due to allegations of abuse or neglect, the courts determine the time in which the parents have to prove that they can provide a safe home for their child. The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) allows 14 months from the time a child is removed from home for parents to make changes and create a safe environment for their child. The court may allow an exception to this timeline if the child is living with relatives.

Generally, DHS Child Welfare and the juvenile court develop a plan with the parents for children to return safely to their homes. However, a concurrent or alternate plan for another permanent home is also made in case the child cannot return home. Adoption or guardianship may be the permanent plan for the child. In 2010, 36% of all adoptions statewide were by relatives.

Some families choose to become licensed foster care providers through DHS. To license your home and ensure that children will be safe when they come to stay with you, DHS Child Welfare workers require that:

  • All adult household members must have an agency background check for any history of child maltreatment.
  • All adult household members must have a criminal history check.
  • A safety checklist must be completed at the home.
  • Four references are required.
  • A Child Welfare worker must complete an in-depth social history and the Oregon SAFE home study with you.
  • An extensive preliminary and annual training requirement must be done.
  • Regular, ongoing visits in your home occur.

Each case is considered individually. The regular process usually takes 60 days, but the agency also has an emergency placement process for relatives to reduce the time children spend in stranger care. This emergency placement process takes between five and seven business days.

“I feel so relieved to have the children with me, but I also want them to have good contact with their parents.”

Many times, relatives intervene directly to provide care for relative children in need. Qualified relatives are always the required first placement if DHS Child Welfare is involved. Either way, managing contact between your relative child and the child’s parent(s), who may be coping with their own problems, can often be challenging.

If you are working with DHS Child Welfare, you can arrange supervised or unsupervised visits at the Child Welfare office, at home or at another location in the community. Your family, DHS Child Welfare and the parents will collaborate on a visitation plan that best suits the child’s needs.

Examples of possible challenges associated with visits and family contacts include:

  • The child may refuse contact with the parent or be extremely upset or dysregulated before and/or after contact with the parent.
  • A parent may be inconsistent, break promises, or miss visits.
  • A parent may call or visit a child while he or she is intoxicated or using drugs.
  • In extreme cases a parent may try to abduct the child. 

Relatives who are not involved with Child Welfare may find it helpful to participate in an online or in-person support group for relatives raising others’ children.

Relatives who are working with Child Welfare can ask for a family meeting to set boundaries or arrange support for visits. You may want to keep a list of concerns to share with your caseworker or ask Intensive Family Services to help with visits.

An Oregon Family Decision Meeting (OFDM) is when family members, DHS staff and others concerned with the well-being of the child (a school teacher, neighbor, minister or grandparent) meet and discuss the best way to protect and care for the child. An ODFM is usually scheduled within 60 days of DHS Child Welfare involvement. OFDM participants discuss the strengths of the family and the needs of the child.

The focus of the meeting is to strategize and agree on a plan for the child’s safety and permanent care. Although most plans include the eventual return of the child to the parent’s home, an alternate plan is discussed if the first plan does not work out. A Child Safety Meeting (CSM) is held at time of case transfer and/or at 30 days.

If the court is involved in deciding where your relative child will live both you and DHS Child Welfare will be expected to ensure the child is being cared for appropriately. In some instances the court may grant legal custody of the child to DHS Child Welfare even though the child is living with you. 

If DHS Child Welfare has legal custody of the child, you and all those living in the household will be notified of any court hearings concerning the child. Court hearings and Citizen Review Board (CRB) reviews provide a lot of information about the child and the current state of the child’s parents. Your attendance at these hearings is important because the court and CRB want to hear your opinion of how the child is doing. The CASA and the child’s attorney can also be helpful to you in meeting the child’s needs.

The relationship you have with your DHS Child Welfare caseworker is important. Your caseworker’s recommendation to the court can determine if a child remains in your home or is placed somewhere else. You can tell the worker specifically what you need to care for your relative child (child care, crib, clothes). You may also face difficult issues and situations such as: differing views about the service plan created for your relative child, trying to prevent contact between the child and parent, and documenting information regarding the behavior of the child’s parents. Your DHS Child Welfare caseworker should support you in dealing with these challenges.

You may experience frustration when dealing with public agencies. Know that staff have to interpret and apply complex, frequently changing rules. If you disagree with the decisions made by the DHS Child Welfare caseworker, you can contact the caseworker’s supervisor to discuss your concerns and review other options outlined in the agency grievance procedure pamphlet.

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