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Child Welfare Services and Reunification

Q: Do social workers have an obligation to make sure information and forms are provided in the language spoken by the parent and/or child?

A: Yes, California regulations mandate counties maintain certain bilingual staffing levels and use interpretation services. 12 Also, “counties are prohibited from using minor children as interpreters except temporarily under extenuating circumstances or at the specific request of the client.” 13

Forms must be in the appropriate language to the extent available, and otherwise verbally translated. For example, the case plan will be in writing and may have translated headings in writing; however, the body of the case plan will be written in English. If the client is not fluent in English, the social worker must provide at least verbal translation for the client. This is true of any written document that is not in the client’s native language.

Q: Does the child’s case plan have to address the child’s progress in applying for legal residency?

A: Yes, for a child 16 or older. The Transitional Independent Living Plan (TILP) must include, “whether the youth has an in-progress application pending for… Special Immigrant Juvenile Status or other applicable application for legal residency and an active dependency case is required for that application.” 14

Q: Whose responsibility is it to assess the immigration needs of the youth?

A: California law is not specific enough to assign the responsibility of assessing immigration needs to any one professional. Therefore, it is essential that someone take ownership and this can be the CASA. The social worker will generally be aware of the child’s immigration status for public benefits purposes, but they may need help in applying for SIJS in a timely way. The minor’s attorney has a duty to let the court know about the legal needs of the youth, and the court must “take whatever appropriate action is necessary to fully protect the interests of the child.” 15

Q: Whose responsibility is it to actually seek relief for the immigration needs of the youth?

A: Once the immigration needs of the youth are known, the social services agency is responsible for providing for those needs as it deems necessary, or as ordered by the court. The court oversees and ensures the provision of those services, and can make orders to the social services agency to provide or arrange for needed services. 16

Q: If a parent is detained or deported, what happens to reunification services?

A: If a parent is otherwise entitled to receive services to reunify with their child, the court shall order reunification services unless it is clearly and convincingly a detriment to the child. Detention by Homeland Security and even deportation does not affect this fact. The social worker must document the reunification efforts made for parents who have been detained or deported. Reasonable services can include anything including collect phone calls, transportation, visitation, etc. 17

Q: If a parent has been detained by the Department of Homeland Security, how do they comply with their case plan so that they can have their child returned to them?

A: Receiving services is an issue. Take note, however, that being detained by the Department of Homeland Security is one of the few circumstances that allows a court to order up to 24 months of services (as opposed to the usual 18 month limit). Conditions must be met, of course, including that the parent is making significant and consistent progress in establishing a safe home for the child’s return. 18

Q: How can the court find that the child is likely to be returned to a parent when the immigration actions make everything so uncertain?

A: When deciding whether to extend services the court must find whether there is a “substantial probability that the child will be returned to the physical custody of his or her parent or guardian within the extended time period,” but in doing so, it must consider barriers to the parent's or guardian's access to services, ability to maintain contact with his or her child, and good faith efforts that the parent or guardian has made to maintain contact with the child. 19 If the court extends the time period, the court must specify the factual basis for its conclusion that there is a substantial probability that the child will be returned. 20

Q: Can the court return a child to a parent who has been deported?

A: Absolutely, as long as doing so would not be detrimental to the child.

Q: What about when the dependency case is dismissed and the family court takes over, does immigration status affect custody?

A: No, in family law proceedings (as well as in other child custody courts, like probate), immigration status does not – as a matter of course – disqualify a parent, legal guardian, or relative from receiving custody of a child. 21

12 See Manual of Policies and Procedures, Division 21, and All County Letters 03-56 and 06-20.
13 Manual of Policies and Procedures, Division 21-115.16. Also, All County Letter 03-56.
14 Welf. & Inst. Code § 16501.1(g)(16)(A)(ii).
15 See Welf. & Inst. Code § 317.
16 See Welf. & Inst. 362(a), and Welf. & Inst. 317(e)(7).
17 See Welf. & Inst. Code § 361.5(e)(1) and All County Letter 14-21. See also Welf & Inst. Code § 362(a).
18 See Welf. & Inst. Code § 366.22(b).
19 See Welf. & Inst. Code § 361.5(a)(3).
20 See Welf. & Inst. Code § 361.5(a)(3).
21 See Family Code § 3040(b). For See also Probate Code §§ 1510(a) and 1514(c).