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Idaho Health and Welfare Director: The child welfare process explained

By Dave Jeppesen March 21, 2022

Given an increased interest in the child welfare system, I would like to share a bit of the process and the role of the Department of Health and Welfare.

First, I need to be clear that specific child welfare cases are confidential, and we cannot release any details about specific cases. We often would like to be able to say more, but that would violate the rights of the families and children who really need support and assistance, not to mention the stigma that might happen if their personal circumstances were made public.

When it comes to child welfare cases, our highest priority is to keep children with their families whenever that can be done safely, or to help the family address safety issues so a child can return home safely. In particular, there is a growing false narrative that parents should be fearful to seek medical care. Nothing could be further from the truth. Parents should always seek medical care and advice when their children are ill and for regular wellness checkups.

As we have shared with the media, in general, below is how the child welfare process works:

If someone is concerned about the safety of a child, they can call the department by dialing 211, or 855-552-KIDS (5437) or their local law enforcement. Referrals can come from anyone, but they often come from a health care worker, teacher, law enforcement or other Idaho resident who has concerns about a child’s safety. (Just a reminder that everyone in Idaho is a mandated reporter if they have information a child may be the victim of abuse or neglect.)

When a referral is received, it is reviewed, and a determination is made if what was called in meets the priority guidelines for assignment.

If the referral meets the guidelines for assignment, it is prioritized for a safety assessment based on severity. For those where the perceived danger to the child is high, a social worker and possibly law enforcement will visit the family to check on the child very quickly. Based on that visit and in consultation with the social worker and possibly health care workers, law enforcement will make the decision about whether to declare that a child is in imminent danger.

If that decision is made, then law enforcement places the child in the temporary custody of the state through the Department of Health and Welfare until a shelter care hearing in court can be held. That hearing will take place in no more than 48 business hours. The judge will hear all the evidence from the family, the social worker, law enforcement and others, and possibly review a safety plan if one is agreed to by the family and will issue a decision about whether the child will be released to the family or will remain in the state’s custody because safety issues have not been addressed by the family.

If the child goes back to his or her family with a safety plan, a social worker will be assigned to work with the family on a case plan ordered through the court to address the safety issues that led to their child being placed in care. The social worker will meet with the family on a frequency determined through the safety plan put in place to make sure the terms of the safety plan are being followed and the child is safe.

If the child remains in the state’s custody, the department will continue to work with the family until the safety concerns are resolved. The Adoption and Safe Families Act allows for parents to have 12 months to resolve the safety issues. If safety issues can’t be resolved and the child can’t be returned safely to the home at that point, then the department can petition the court for termination of parental rights. We always hope it doesn’t come to that, but it sometimes does, unfortunately.

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