Jessica Marcus, a staff attorney in the Family Law Unit at South Brooklyn Legal Services, explains the rights and responsibilities of parents seeking drug treatment.
Q: Will my kids be put in foster care if I tell someone I need treatment for a problem with drugs or alcohol?
A: If you go to a treatment program, they shouldn’t open a case. If you go to a preventive services program for help with a drug addiction (or any other issue), they will open an ACS case. That doesn’t mean there will be a case against you or that your children are in any danger, but it does mean that ACS will have information on your family in its files.
Parents should know that by going to any social service agency, they will come into contact with “mandated reporters”—people who have to report child maltreatment to the state central registry. But legally, sim- ply having an addiction is not enough to remove a child. For your children to be removed, there would have to be “imminent risk,” meaning that ACS believes the child is in immediate danger at home.
Q: If I have an ACS case, can I choose the kind of treatment I get?
A: Whether you get inpatient or out-patient treatment should be decided between the parent and ACS and the agency. If you know of a good program that you’d like to attend, you should definitely discuss that with your lawyer or caseworker.
There are two types of treatment programs that allow you to get help while living with your children. Mother-child programs allow you and a child to live together in a treatment facility. Family Rehabilitation Programs (FRP) allow you to get outpatient treatment and other services while living at home with your children. FRP and mother-child programs are
Q: If I attend in-patient rehab, will I lose my housing?
A: Parents who go to residential treatment very often lose their housing. Unless you can pay for treatment, the program is probably going to require you to be on public assistance, and public assistance will pay the rent allowance portion of your budget directly to the program. If you can, talk to a housing lawyer to find out how to retain your housing.
If you think residential treatment is the only thing that will help you, getting help should be your primary focus, but if there’s any way to retain your housing and get effective treatment, you should try that.
Q: Can I switch to a different treatment program if I don’t like mine?
A: I can never say that ACS won’t use something against a parent, but if a parent has a good reason why another program will be better, she should say so. If you keep switching over and over again, it might look like you’re avoiding something, though.
Q: Do I get visits with my kids even if I’m in a residential treatment program?
A: Yes, you should have visits with your kids no matter what. The foster care agency has a responsibility to arrange visits that work.
Q: Once I complete rehab, will I get my kids back right away?
A: Not always. Sometimes there’s just administrative delays—a parent has done everything but can’t get ACS and the agency to pay attention. Housing can cause a delay.
Sometimes there are other steps in your service plan, like therapy or parenting programs.
Sometimes programs don’t consider you finished unless you have a job and an apartment, and it’s not always easy to fit in a job with the other requirements of a case, like service plan reviews, visits and court dates.
If a program says you’re not officially graduated, you should argue that you finished the treatment portion and are working on finding a job, but in the meantime, your children should come home.
Q: Will my children be removed if I relapse? How should I handle a relapse?
A: If a parent relapses and needs help, she should ask for help. Getting help should be the first consideration. Call your sponsor or someone you identified during treatment as supportive. They should understand that relapse doesn’t necessarily mean the children are at risk. It’s part of recovery.