May 01, 2012

Individualized Case Plans Required for Each Parent

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

The Florida District Court of Appeals reversed the portion of the Circuit Court’s order adopting the agency’s proposed case plan for the mother that called for specific services because they were not related to resolving the reasons the child was dependent.

In re G.S., 2012 WL 1193358 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.).

A child was removed in Florida when his mother was arrested. The mother requested that the child be placed with his father in California. The child, who was 16, refused to move to his father’s home, alleging his father had a history of physical, mental, and substance abuse.

The agency filed a dependency petition with the mother’s consent. The mother refused however to sign the agency’s proposed case plan at the adjudicatory hearing, objecting to three case plan requirements.

She objected to the plan’s requirements that she engage in domestic violence and parenting classes, and substance abuse treatment. She contended she had already completed these services while in California under a dependency order there and had successfully reunified. Further, she argued that none of the services proposed related to the reasons for  removal. The dependency was a result of the mother’s failure to notify the father of her plans to move to Florida per their custody decree.

The circuit court accepted the agency’s plan over the mother’s objections, noting that because it was ordering the father to complete these services, it also had to order the mother to complete them. It found it did not have enough information about what had transpired in California and could not rely on the mother’s statements alone to dispense with services in the current case. The mother appealed.

The Court of Appeals held that state statute requires the agency to develop individualized plans that identify the problems that led to dependency, provide tasks or services to deal with these problems, and have clear objectives and goals.

A plan that mirrors the case plan for another parent does not comply with the statutory requirement for individualized and least–intrusive plans that provide a meaningful opportunity to reach the permanency goal.

The Florida District Court of Appeals affirmed the dependency finding and remanded the case with instructions to adopt a new case plan.