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Evidence supported verdict finding continuing CHIPS ground at TPR trial

Douglas County DHHS v. J.S., 2021AP1123, District 3, 12/29/21 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

The court of appeals rejects J.S.’s claim that the County didn’t prove it made a reasonable effort to provide her with the services she was ordered in the CHIPS proceeding to use as a condition for returning her child to her home.

J.S. (“Jessica”) argues the County failed to make a reasonable effort to provide her with court-ordered services because it failed to follow The Child Welfare Ongoing Services Standards put together by the Department of Children and Families, which she says give social workers the necessary framework to meet the “reasonable effort” requirement under § 48.415(2)(a)2.b. She contends that if the County didn’t follow those standards, it can’t prove that it made a reasonable effort to provide the parent with the services ordered by the court. (¶11).

The court disagrees. What matters, it says, are the statutory definition of “reasonable effort” in § 48.415(2)(a)2.a. and the provisions of the statutes governing involuntary TPR proceedings, none of which refer to, incorporate, or mandate compliance with the DCF standards. “Although [the DCF] standards might be used to establish expectations or general requirements for social workers managing a case, Jessica provides no authority for her assertion that it is a benchmark by which the jury was required to judge whether the County made a reasonable effort to provide court-ordered services to Jessica, or that its verdict was unsupported because it did not do so.” (¶12). The legislature could incorporate those standards into the statutes, but it hasn’t, and the court won’t read them into the statutory standards. (¶13). Moreover, the jury had the opportunity to consider the standards and how the County’s behavior in relation to those standards might have affected its ability to make a reasonable effort to provide Jessica with court-ordered services because  the circuit court permitted questioning about the standards and how those guidelines compared to the County’s actions. (¶13).

The opinion gives a website address to an archived copy of the 2017 version of the standards, which would have applied to J.S., but the address doesn’t seem to work. The 2021 version of the standards is available here. J.S. makes a similar argument about standards promulgated by the U.S. DHHS, which fails for the same basic reason. (¶14). And, because there’s no requirement the County meet the DCF or DHHS standards, her trial lawyer was not ineffective for not moving for a directed verdict on the ground the evidence didn’t satisfy those standards. (¶¶19-22).

The court goes on to find there was sufficient evidence that the County made a reasonable effort to provide the J.S. with the court-ordered services. (¶¶15-18).

 

 

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