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Incarcerated Parents Manual:
Credits
Dedication
Introduction
Arrest
Placement
Foster Care & Dependency
Family Reunification
Making a Record
Paternity
De facto Parent
Child Support
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
Conclusion
Definitions
Samples
Resources
Organizations
 
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Family Reunification
How do I get my child back?

You must prove to the court that you are a good parent. In the eyes of the court, drawing of a mother cradling an infant in her armsthis means that you have completed your reunification requirements and your child is not at risk of harm. Keep in regular contact with your child and do everything possible to meet these requirements.

Take advantage of any classes, groups or programs that your jail or prison offers, such as anger management, N.A., A.A., parenting, creative arts, GED, etc. The court may order reunification for up to 18 months. However, these court-ordered services can be limited to six months if your child was under the age of three years old when s/he entered foster care.

Reunification Services help you to remain in contact with your child through:

  • Collect phone calls;
  • Transportation services; and
  • Visitation services.

When Reunification Services Will Not Be Offered

The court can decide not to offer these services in any of the following situations:

  • The court cannot find you or doesn't know where you are.
  • The court finds that you have a mental disability which prevents you from taking care of your child (two psychiatric evaluations are necessary here).
  • The court has already taken a child away from you due to physical or sexual abuse, returned the child to you and the child or her sibling is again being removed for physical or sexual abuse,
  • The court has found that you caused the death of a child through abuse or neglect.
  • The child is under the age of five and has suffered severe physical abuse by you or someone you know.
  • The court finds that you have severely abused a child, and decides that your child would not benefit from reunification services with you.
  • The court finds that you willfully abandoned your child and that the abandonment placed the child in serious danger.
  • The court terminated reunification services for one of your other children.
  • You have a history of drug or alcohol abuse and have resisted treatment.
  • You have lost custody and your parental rights of another child and you have not dealt to the court's satisfaction with the reasons you lost custody of that child.
  • You have told the court that you do not want reunification services and that you do not want custody of your child.
  • The court finds that you have taken a child from a placement, and have refused to return the child or tell the social worker where the child is;
  • You have been convicted of a violent felony as defined in Penal Code 667.5(c).

Keep in regular contact with your child and do everything possible to meet all reunification requirements.

The court will not offer you reunification services if it finds drawing of a childyour relationship with your child to be detrimental. To find detriment, the court looks at:

  • Your child's age;
  • The strength of your relationship;
  • Your sentence;
  • Your crime;
  • Treatment;
  • The effect on your child if no services are offered;
  • Your child's wishes if s/he is older than ten years old; and
  • Any other factors parties want the court to consider.

Getting Your Child Back after You Are Released

After you have been released from custody, the process that you follow to get your child back will depend on how much the court was involved in the placement of your child.

Foster Care

You have the right to a free, court-appointed lawyer. To help your lawyer work for you, you should:

  • Write to your lawyer asking that s/he set up a review hearing after your release.
  • Ask your social worker to set up a revised visitation schedule to take effect as soon as you are released.
  • Arrange to have a safe place to stay and get a job, education or training as soon as possible after you are released.
  • Keep records of every contact with your child.
    See the Making a Record section of this manual.
  • Meet with your lawyer to let her know about your progress during incarcera-tion: show her your records.

Legal Guardianship

You must get the court's permission to get your child back. To do this, you should ask the court to terminate or rescind the legal guardianship. If you take your child without the permission of the legal guardian or the court, you could be prosecuted for child stealing. Your probation or parole could also be revoked.

If legal guardianship is done through CPS, you may have the right to a free lawyer. If not, you should try to obtain legal assistance once you are released from jail or prison. Call the local Bar Association to find out what free legal representation services are available in your county. You can also call the Family Law Facilitator to do the process on your own, pro per.

Caregiver Affidavit

You are still the legal caregiver of your child. Your child can live with you as soon as you are released. However, you should revoke the caregiver affidavit and the Power of Attorney. You do not have the right to a free lawyer. You should try to obtain legal assistance once you are released from jail or prison. Call the local Bar Association to find out what free legal representation services are available in your county.

Post-release review

If your child is not returned to you at the first court date after your release, do not give up! This is an important time for you and your family. Your child will want you to keep trying.

  • Continue to follow your case plan, even if Family Reunification has been terminated.
  • Visit with your child as often as possible.
  • If you must miss a visit, call the social worker and foster parent both, at least 24 hours before, or as soon as you know you can't make it.
  • Go to whatever parenting, counseling or other classes the court orders. Do not miss these appointments.

Work towards gradually increasing your visits with your child and making her feel comfortable with you. Once the court sees that your supervised visits are going well, you may be able to take your child for an afternoon, then an entire day, then an overnight visit, and then a weekend visit.


Nobody can stop a woman from feelin' she has to rise up like the sun.

Somebody may change the words we're saying but the truth will live on and on.

You can't kill the spirit. It's like a mountain,

Old and strong. It lives on and on.

—Naomi Littlebear

from "Through the Looking Glass,"
a women's prison newletter
(Vol.II, No.1: Spring 1986)

drawing of a woman by Sherron Longfeather
 

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
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(415) 255-7036  •  info@prisonerswithchildren.org