There are different stages of the social worker’s duty to provide reasonable services.
At the first stage of the social worker’s requirement to provide services to keep your family together is just prior to the very first hearing: the detention hearing. (If you have a CPS case now or it looks like CPS is heading to court to file a case this issue effects your family) CPS/CFS removed the children from your care. At some point they issued you a court date. Once CPS/CFS has taken your children, they must FILE a petition within 48 hours and then the court MUST get it on calendar within 24 hours after CPS/CFS filed that petition. So, if they filed the petition Monday at 9:00 a.m., you will be in court at your detention hearing Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. If they took the children on a Friday at 12:00, they must file by the petition by Tuesday at 12:00 and the court must get it on calendar by Wednesday at 12:00.
Now between the time of taking your children and your first court hearing, the detention hearing, you are to have been provided REASONABLE efforts (like services) to PREVENT the continued status of your children being out of your custody. (For example help you get signed up for a parenting class or a therapy session, or move grandma in for the time being as a layer of security)
“At detention, the court must determine whether or not the agency made reasonable efforts to prevent the need for the child’s removal from the home and whether there are services that would obviate the need for further detention. Services to be considered may include case management, counseling, emergency shelter care, emergency in-home caretakers, out-of-home respite care, teaching and demonstrating homemaking, parenting training, transportation, and referrals to public assistance (e.g., MediCal, food stamps). (§ 319(d).)Under the Welfare and Institutions Code, not only must the social worker consider reasonable means to maintain the child safely in the home, but peace officers also may not take a child into temporary custody absent imminent danger of physical or sexual abuse or an immediate threat to the child’s health or safety. (§§ 305, 306(b).)”
Sadly, most of the time the social worker does ZERO at this stage to keep the child(ren) in the home with you but they want the court to make a finding that they actually DID make reasonable efforts to prevent the need for the child’s removal. I RARELY see a social worker come to court and say “oh, wait these services (local church support group or a local voluntary family services group. Can provide services to this family, so never mind, I want to withdraw the petition.” Mainly what you will see in the report to the court where CPS says they provided reasonable efforts is: 1. We placed the children in a foster care home, or 2. We gave the family bus passes to get to court…. Obviously, this does not address reasonable services or “efforts” to prevent continued removal. However, often the court will make the finding that reasonable efforts have been satisfied. (this is often very perplexing to the litigator when reasonable efforts law is being argued.) There are a few great judges out there that will call the CPS worker to the matt on this! However, this argument is often overlooked by counsel and is frankly one of the most viable arguments a lawyer can make at the very beginning of the case to keep the kids with you while the case proceeds through the system! It cannot be underestimated how IMPORTANT the very first court hearing is to the long-term effects of a family in a CPS system.
Recently, I had a case in court where I litigated detention on the reasonable effort’s argument, why? Because, as usual, the Department of Social Services did nothing regarding “efforts” after they obtained a protective custody warrant. Absolutely nothing. This was in violation of the law and for social services to ask the court that she should make a “reasonable efforts” finding was illogical and frankly fraudulent. The court put the Department to the test to basically come back and show me that you made these reasonable efforts, I will give you two weeks. Low and behold, big surprise, still slowly the CPS agency made a mediocre effort, cancelled meetings, had the family write up their own safety plan (when they promised the court that they would engage in creating a safety plan) and wobbled into court trying to look like they made these big efforts! (absolutely ridiculous) Then when the parents filed a motion to reconsider the detention of the child the county filed a motion indicating the parents really couldn’t fight the county’s mandated duty to provide efforts. In the end, the court carefully heard both sides and ordered that the child be returned to the parents as it was the parents who took the bull by the horns and did all they could to put “services” in place knowing (based on my legal advice and guidance) the social worker would slack.
Let’s say the court detains the child and does find reasonable efforts were made to prevent the need for removal. The matter proceeds to a trial on the allegations of the petition (the statement they filed indicating what you did as a parent and how the child is at risk or danger if they continue to remain in your custody). The trial or plea (if you resolve it) results in a case plan at disposition and this is where “reasonable services” are ordered to be provided. If a case plan is created and “reasonable” services are offered to your family, the social worker must provide them or you can contest their efforts at a contested hearing as these contests are set at review hearings or you yourself can file a no reasonable services are occurring in-between review hearings. The best way to track the Department and not let them get away with ignoring you or their duties is to keep a paper trial, emails ect. (Interestingly, many social workers do not want to communicate via email-why? Because they know you can create a communication trial and use it against them) If they do this to you, you can send faxes, letters, certified letters, drop off letters to their offices and take a picture of the building with the envelope showing you dropped it off, place a letter in the mail addressed to social services about your services and snap a photo of the addressed envelope as it is being placed into the mail slot at the post office. (In case you are wondering, I have done this) It is good evidence to combat the “I never got the letter” excuse.
Reasonable services are services similar to: visitation, therapy, family therapy, drug testing, drug assessments, psychological evaluations, parenting classes and domestic violence classes to name a few, even bus passes. The social worker will give you a list of services for you to engage in. What if you call the services and they never call you back? This is VERY common especially with therapeutic services. This is not the fault of the therapist, they are often booked up. If you cannot get through make sure you let your social worker know of the efforts you are making to call, the no return call and make sure you do this in writing, text, mail, or email. Keep copies. This can become your evidence later for a no reasonable services argument and a ruling in your favor.
I once had a client who did just this! He had a paper trail like it was no one’s business. He let his other lawyer go and asked me to represent him which I gladly did (he was actually one of my favorite client’s ever!) Anyway, the Department was ignoring the case and failing to recognize his progress, was not calling him back and we gathered up all of the “no reasonable services EVIDENCE” as we were headed to trial. Instead of going to trial and facing a certain defeat, CPS just gave the kids back to him. We were lucky enough to get a very honest, hard working supervisor that looked at what the social worker had done and saw that father’s efforts were outstanding and the social worker’s efforts—– abysmal. Kids went home and the case was closed.
Reasonable services must be tailored to the unique needs of the family. This is the LAW! If you are hearing impaired for example, then if they provide you with a referral for a therapist, they must be able to communicate in sign-language. Uniquely tailored! If you work from 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. and the only classes you are offered are at 5:00 p.m. they MUST accommodate YOU with services, they must find a class during the time(s) that you don’t’ work because you have to keep your job. Uniquely tailored! However, if you do not tell them of the conflict, in writing, (because you need a paper trial of sorts) it will look like you just failed services when in fact the services were impossible for you to attend. These are careful steps parents can take to ensure services and a quicker return of the children back into your care where they belong.
 There are some cases where the Department indicates they will NOT provide any services and these are the more serious cases like severe physical abuse, broken bones, Abusive head trauma, torture, sexual abuse.