Under what circumstances does the state have the right to take children away from their parents? To what lengths should the state go to reunify a divided family? In Dade County these questions recently prompted juvenile court officials to form a Family Preservation Committee, with the goal of avoiding "out-of-home" placements and reunifying families -- such as the Nogueses -- that have been divided.
Florida's Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) provides stringent guidelines for investigators determining whether a child-abuse claim warrants the removal of children from their parents' home. The agency's "Investigation Decisions Handbook" states:
"Federal law and state law and policy require you to protect a child by removal from the home and placement elsewhere only when it has been clearly determined that the problems in the home are so serious that the child's safety and well-being cannot be assured by providing in-home supports and supervision -- or those services have been attempted but were unsuccessful. Your documented assessment of risk will be necessary to support this decision."
When placing children with relatives, HRS officials are required to review the case, seek input from all involved parties, and specifically address ten factors. Among them:
"The attitude of the relative toward the child's parent. An adversarial relationship or extreme hostility toward the parent can create conflict and stress for the child and seriously interfere with his emotional growth"
"The child's feeling concerning placement with these relatives"
"Capacity for parenting...and the adequacy of the physical setting to include another family member"
Potential problem areas
"The thrust of the system must be to reunite families," stresses Judge William Gladstone, the administrative judge of the ciruit court's juvenile and family division."That's the law.