Questions and Answers . . . What Are My Rights?  Children, Youth and Families

Are there different names for the Office of Children, Youth and Families?

Yes, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania uses the name Office of Children, Youth and Families. However, depending on which of the 67 counties you live in your county department may have a different name. Some of the counties use names such as: Children and Youth Services (CYS), Children, Youth and Family (CYF), Department of Children, Youth and Family (DCYF), Department of Children Youth and Family Services (DYFS). For the purposes of this document we will use the term Children, Youth and Family (CYF).


What happens during the investigation?

The Children, Youth and Family (CYF) agency will determine if the child was abused or neglected through an investigation by a trained child protective services caseworker.  The Caseworker will interview the child, parents, alleged perpetrator and possible witnesses to the incident.  (Allegheny County Parent Handbook, 10/2011)


How long will the investigation take?

The Children, Youth and Family (CYF) agency has 24 hours to begin its investigation and see the child.  If they cannot determine from the report that the child is safe they must immediately begin the investigation and immediately see the child.   The investigation is completed typically within 30 days and the results are submitted to ChildLine.  If the investigation cannot be completed within 30 days, CYF must document the reasons and complete the investigation within 60 days.  (Child Abuse Prevention Primer, Commonwealth of PA)


What happens after the investigation?

The resulting information is used to determine whether your case will be opened, closed with recommendations for services or closed without recommendations for services.  (Child Abuse Prevention Primer, Commonwealth of PA)


Will my child be removed from my home?

Children, Youth and Family (CYF) must provide services that will keep a family together whenever possible.  Most families who are involved with CYF continue to live together under the same roof.  While children remain in the home, the parents are receiving services from CYF.  The services will help the family work through problems and improve family life.  (Allegheny County Parent Handbook, 10/2011)

If the Children, Youth and Family (CYF) agency determines that the child is in immediate danger and the only way to assure the child’s safety is to remove the child from the home, the agency must seek a court order to remove the child.  (Child Abuse Prevention Primer, Commonwealth of PA)


What if I don’t agree with the decisions of the investigation?

You may appeal a “founded” or “substantiated” ChildLine report if you don’t think your child was abused or neglected.  Ask your Caseworker or attorney for more information.  (Allegheny County Parent Handbook, 10/2011)     


Where is my child(ren) going if removed from the home?

The first option is to have the child placed in the home of a capable relative or friend, which is called “kinship care”.  If this is not possible, the child may be placed in an agency-approved foster home or residential facility.  (Child Abuse Prevention Primer, Commonwealth of PA)


Can my child(ren) stay together if removed from the home?

In an effort to improve outcomes for children and their siblings that are placed in foster care, your Children, Youth and Family (CYF) agency is required to make a “reasonable effort” to place siblings in the same foster care, kinship home, or adoptive placement. If the siblings are removed from their home and not placed together, the CYF agency must make a “reasonable effort” for frequent visitation (required by law to have at least two visits per month) or other ongoing interaction between the siblings.

The CYF agency does not have to make a “reasonable effort” if they can prove to the judge that it would not be in the best interest of the siblings, for their safety or well-being, to have visitation or interaction.  (Fostering connections to Success Act of 2008) 


Can my child(ren) stay with a family member or friend?

Children, Youth and Family (CYF) must make reasonable efforts to place your child(ren) with a family member or good friend who knows your child(ren) well.  Children do best when living with people they know.  It is important to make sure to give your agency Caseworkers the names, addresses and phone numbers of family members and /or close family friends who might be willing to care for your child(ren).  These can be the same people you would want your children to be with if anything ever happened to you or if you were in the hospital.   (Westmoreland County Parent Handbook, 2011)


Will my child(ren) be able to attend the same school?

In accordance with the Fostering Connections Act, a child in foster care should remain in the same school district unless it is not in their best interest.  Children, Youth and Family agencies have also been strongly encouraged to make placements that are close to the child’s home school, when possible, in order to promote school stability.  (The Education of children in Foster Care or Awaiting Foster Care Placement FAQ’s, 03/201, PA Department of Education)


When will I see my child(ren) again?

Visits are required by law unless the judge orders no visits allowed.  You have the right and responsibility to visit your child(ren) at least every other week.  These scheduled visits are important to you and your child.  Work with your caseworker and lawyer to find a visitation schedule that works for you.  Once a visit schedule is arranged, it is important that you make your visits, follow the guidelines and practice what you are learning.  If you do not visit as scheduled, it will be harder to get your child(ren) back.  (Allegheny County Parent Handbook, 10/2011)

You have the right to visitation at minimum every other week. You can request more frequent visitation.  Research supports more frequent visitation where there are no safety concerns. Daily visitation should be honored for younger children.  Visitation should be offered in the least restrictive setting such as the home of a relative, foster home, or other places where families can have more natural interactions.  Both maternal and paternal family members have the right to visitation.


How will I get to the visits?

If you have problems with transportation, talk to your Caseworker or attorney.  There are ways that the agency and perhaps your support network can help you make it to your visits.  (Allegheny County Parent Handbook, 10/2011)


Can talk to my children by phone?

Children should be allowed regular opportunities to telephone significant people in their lives.  (Know Your Rights, Juvenile Law Center, 2010)


What steps do I need to take to get my child(ren) back?

Parents must successfully complete any treatment and overall parent functioning that was outlined in their Family Service Plan (FSP).  You the parent should be a part of creating your FSP with your caseworker.  It is a document specifically for you, that outlines the steps you will need to take to have your children returned to you.  When you participate fully in this process, you have more say in what services are most beneficial to you and your child.  Some typical FSP objectives that may or may not be included are:   

The completion of parenting classes, and the ability to demonstrate what you learn during visitation;

Anger Management Classes;

Mental health or emotional therapy, either by yourself or along with your child;.

Drug and Alcohol Treatment;

Classes or therapy to help you manage your children.

(Allegheny County Parent Handbook, 10/2011)


How long will it take to get my child(ren) back?

Depends on how long it takes for you to complete your Family Service Plan (FSP) and to be able to provide a safe home for your child(ren).   You must make positive changes within 12 months. If the Judge finds that you are not making progress, s/he may decide that your child(ren) cannot return home. 

During your dealings with your case worker, the caseworker will be checking in with you.  He/she will ask you questions and require documentation about what you have completed on your FSP.  Remember, their goal is to keep your child(ren) safe, and to work with you, so that your child(ren) can be returned to you.  (Allegheny County Parent Handbook, 10/2011)


When is court?

Not all families have to go to court.  However, if you are scheduled to go to court for a hearing – it is important that you go.  Don’t miss a hearing.  You can get court dates from your case worker or your lawyer.

 If the court grants an emergency order to remove your child from your home, the next thing you will need to do is go to an emergency Shelter Care Hearing.  This hearing must be held within 72 hours (3 days) of the emergency order.  At this hearing, the court will decide whether your child needs to remain in placement until the next hearing or if your child can go home with you.  (Westmoreland County Parent Handbook, 2011)


Will my child be adopted?

In accordance with the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), the Children, Youth and Family (CYF) agency must start court proceedings to place children for adoption once a child has been waiting in foster care for at least 15 of the most recent 22 months, unless there is an exception, such as it's not in the best interest of the child or the child is with a relative. In extreme cases a child may be made available for adoption earlier. 

They use a process called “Concurrent Planning”.  While the county agency is working hard to return your children to you, they must also be working on a “plan B.”  Children do not do well if they are in foster care for a long time.  If by the 15th month, you are unable to complete your goals in your Family Service Plan (FSP), caseworkers must recommend to the judge an alternative permanency plan for your child(ren).The judge may then decide to continue with steps to return the child(ren) to your care or to grant a goal change. 

Achieving permanency is central to helping a youth develop as a youth to adulthood and beyond.  The hierarchy of permanency goals for children and youth:

Reunification (Return to parent) - The first goal is to reunify each family. The county children and youth agency should provide your family with all the services you need so that your child can safely return home. Such services could include: help getting appropriate housing; counseling for the parent, family, or child; parenting classes; and mental health or drug and alcohol treatment. People’s situations change over time. A parent who was not able to take care of their child previously may have gotten himself or herself together and may now be able to care for them.
Adoption - If your parental rights have been terminated, the child can be adopted. When a court terminates parents’ rights, it means they no longer have a right to see the child nor do they have an obligation to provide any support.  When the child is adopted, the case with the county child welfare agency is closed and the child is discharged to a family who will raise and provide for them. The adoptive parents have all the rights of a parent who gave birth. The adoptive parents can chose to allow the child to see his / her biological parents and relatives if they want to. Children can be adopted by a family member or by someone they are not related to.
Permanent Legal Custodianship - A permanent legal custodian (PLC) is someone who agrees to care for your child and assume legal and physical custody of the child until he / she becomes an adult. The PLC can be a foster parent, relative, or another person approved by the county child welfare agency. In this case, your child would be discharged from the system to the PLC. Your rights as the biological parents do not need to be terminated for custodianship to be granted. In most cases, a visitation plan with the parents can be agreed to when custodianship is awarded.
Permanent Placement with a Fit and Willing Relative (placement with relatives) - Placement with a fit and willing relative is another permanency plan. Often this is referred to as kinship care. If the kinship care provider meets all the same licensing requirements as a foster care provider, they can receive financial help to take care of your child. If the relative is receiving kinship care payments, the case will stay open.  The case could stay open until the child reaches the age of 21 if he / she is in a program of instruction—such as school, college, or training—or are in treatment.
Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) – This is the least favorite and is only used when the court determines that compelling reasons exist to rule out the more favored options and select APPLA.  Compelling reasons include:

The case of an older teen who specifically requests that emancipation be the permanency plan;
The case of a parent and child who have a significant bond but the parent is unable to care for the child because of an emotional or physical disability and the child's foster parents have committed to raising him / her to the age of majority and to facilitate visitation with the disabled parent; or,
Another planned permanent living arrangement has been identified for the child.

(Permanency for Older Youth, Juvenile Law Center) (Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), 1997)

This may seem very overwhelming and scary for you.  Do not worry, you have professionals and a support network that will be there to support you every step of the way.  Remember until a judge says yes to a goal change, you will receive services that will help your child(ren) return to you to live in a safe environment.  This is a lot of information, so be sure to ask your caseworker, judge and/or lawyer any questions you may have!

(Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), 1997)


What do I tell my kids?

This is a very difficult conversation to have with your children.  You may also be struggling to help all of your children to understand because of their different ages, and the uncertainty of the situation.  The important thing to remember is that children will be using you as a reference for how they are going to react.  No matter how difficult it may be - it is important to stay as calm as possible.  Below are some tips to help you talk to your children about some difficult things:

  1. Tell the children only what you know.  Be sensitively honest with your children. “You are going to live at another person’s house for a little while.”  “I do not know this person but it will be a safe place for you until I can get it sorted out.” Or “You will be staying with grandma for a little while.”
  2. Reassure the children that they will be safe.
  3. It is ok to cry.  Let the children know that you are sad and they can be sad too.  If you are uncontrollably crying this may not be a good time to speak with your children.  Try to breathe and calm down before talking with them. 
  4. Make sure to remind your children that this is not something they caused.  Children often feel that situations like this happen because they were “being bad.
  5. Remind them how much you love them and tell them often.  You are the most important person in your child’s life. 
  6. Send them with a photo or reminder of you.  While things are getting sorted out children can find comfort in a personal item such as a photo, a bracelet, a t-shirt or something that reminds them that you are there without having to be there physically. 
  7. If your child is going to a home that is unfamiliar to them and to you, help the new caretakers be prepared.  Send along a child’s favorite book or let them know what foods they like to eat.  Note special instructions such as possible allergies and nap/ bedtimes.   This helps to create consistency in routines.
  8. You know your child the best.  You can give the case worker and new caregiver advice on how to best care for your child.  What is the best way to make them feel comfortable?  What is their daily schedule?

By taking the extra steps to talk with your children about difficult situations, you are easing the transition for both them, and you.  Your relationship is very important and helping your children work through difficult times can strengthen your relationship.  (Erin Troup)


Can I call OCYF and ask for my child to be removed from my home?

Yes, there are times a parent may feel their child is too dangerous to have in the home.  A parent can contact OCYF to have their child removed from the home for the child's safety, the parent’s safety and the sibling’s safety. No parent wants to give their child up but sometimes it is necessary.

When you do this you give up physical and legal custody but retain parental rights which include approving of his/her placement, education, medication, and therapy etc. A parent will then have to pay the county child support. Permanency placement in court occurs 30, 90, days ongoing in duration or shorter term depending on the judge's recommendations. A parent can be asked to have a psychological exam done but does not have to do this; it is their right to decide what is best for themselves as well. As a parent you still have the right to be extremely involved in your child's day to day life even though they are not living in your home. A parent can ask the court to return custody to them once the child is not a threat to themselves and to others.


What are Family Centers?

Family Centers are an initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Office of Children, Youth and Families.

For over a decade, Pennsylvania Family Centers have provided community services to help families become healthy, well-educated and self-sufficient.
Family Centers provide a framework for strengthening families by assuring healthy development and access to healthcare services for children, and encouraging economic self-sufficiency.
Family Centers promote positive child development through effective parenting, early intervention and outreach activities, and they support and preserve the family unit as the child’s foundation for success.
Family Centers provide a seamless, comprehensive, and easily accessed network of services for children and their families. Services are provided on-site in the local family center, in families’ homes, and through referral to other agencies and resources in the community.
Family Centers are more than a program. They represent a philosophy of family support, a process of community collaboration, and a place where children and families come together to learn and grow.
They offer a variety of services and supports uniquely designed to meet the needs of children and families in their communities.
Family Center services include:

Parent support and information groups;
Child health and development screenings In-home child development sessions;
Family activities, toy- and book-lending libraries Information about getting health insurance and health care Information and help in getting other community services Information about finding employment, adult education and literacy instruction.

Adapted from the Pennsylvania Child Welfare Resource Center