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Child protection agencies have a responsibility to assist parents of children who are in foster care in an individualized way, and not with a one-size-fits-all approach, a Brooklyn, N.Y., Family Court judge has said in a ruling dismissing a petition to take away a woman’s children. Since the Adoption and Safe Families Act limits the amount of time that children may remain in foster care, Judge Lee H. Elkins reasoned, child protection agencies working under the aegis of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services must diligently respond to the root cause of separation between the parent and child. In Matter of Commitment of S. Children, B00405-00409/99, Elkins said that the agency failed to address the difficulties faced by a mother of six children. The agency handling the S. family, Angel Guardian Home, petitioned the court to commit custody and guardianship of the six children to the Administration for Children’s Services, arguing that the mother, Gladys S., had neglected the children during the year they were in foster care. After holding fact-finding hearings from August 1999 to August 2000, Elkins concluded that the agency had failed the mother, and rejected the proposal to change custody. The court said that before considering whether the parent failed to plan for her children’s future, it must determine by clear and convincing evidence that the “agency made diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship.” Elkins said that the agency failed to determine the type of counseling that would best address the reason for the separation between Gladys S. and her children. The need for such an individualized program of counseling and assistance to the parent is especially important now that the Adoption and Safe Families Act is in effect, the court said. “Especially in light of the [act], which strictly limits the period that children may remain in foster care, a child protection agency’s efforts may not be formulaic, but must relate meaningfully to the cause of the separation between the parent and the child,” Elkins wrote. The agency, Judge Elkins said, required Gladys S. to engage in therapy, even though evaluations showed she had no significant mental illness. The mother’s real problem — borderline intellectual functioning — was never dealt with, the court said, even though case workers had reason to suspect that she was burdened with an intellectual deficit. Without an effort to determine the mother’s cognitive limitations, it was wrong for the agency to cut off her sessions with a “birth parent facilitator,” and conclude that there were no other resources available to assist her in parenting skills. The agency was represented by Ira Eras of Warren & Warren in Brooklyn. The children’s law guardian was John Savittieri of the Legal Aid Society Juvenile Rights Division in Brooklyn. Gladys S. was represented by Pauline Braun of Valley Stream, N.Y.

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