Shelter Care
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Shelter Care Standards
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In order to determine whether or not a child should remain in the emergency shelter care of an agency, Children Services must prove that there is probable cause to believe that the child is in danger of immediate or threatened physical or emotional harm in the environment of the parent(s) from whom the child was removed. Continued shelter care may also be required where the child has no parent or guardian available to provide for his or her basic needs, or where there is belief that the child will be removed from the court’s jurisdiction if he or she is returned home. Let’s look at a few examples to flesh out these standards.

Let’s assume that a referral is made to the local Children Services Board alleging that a mother and father threw their baby down a flight of stairs. In the course of their investigation, Children Services workers discover this to be true, and find that the baby has sustained serious injuries. At this point, Children Services may call the local juvenile court and ask for an ex-parte order granting them emergency shelter care of the child. The order is granted, and the workers (along with the local police) remove the child from the home. The following day, a shelter care hearing is held at the court, and Children Services will put on evidence showing that the child is in danger of immediate or threatened harm, and therefore shelter care should continue. The parents dispute this, but Children Services is able to show that the parents have significant mental health and drug abuse issues such that this incident where the child was hurled down the stairs may happen again. Under these circumstances, the court may find that continued shelter care is necessary for the welfare of the child.

If continued emergency shelter care is found to be in a child’s best interests, the court will also determine whether or not there are any appropriate relatives of the child that could temporarily care for him or her. Should appropriate relatives exist, the court will likely place the child with those relatives, as this placement is less restrictive than a placement in shelter care.

At this shelter care hearing, the court will also determine whether or not the agency who initially removed the child from the home made reasonable efforts to prevent the removal of the child from the home, and to eliminate the continued removal of the child from the home. An example of "reasonable efforts" by the agency may mean removing the person who threw the child down the stairs from the home so that the other parent can continue to care for the child. Let’s say in our last hypothetical that the child’s father alone has significant drug issues and was under the influence of cocaine when he committed this horrible abuse on the child. If the child’s mother is appropriate, perhaps the agency could invoke a safety plan in which the father is temporarily removed from the home so that the mother can care for the child until he attends drug treatment and tests clean of all illegal substances.

Next, let’s explore the rights retained by the child and his or her parents while in continued emergency shelter care.

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