One of the most painful experiences a parent can face is the removal of their child by Child Protective Services. A new video by the King County Department of Public Defense explores this difficult issue, profiling two parents who experienced both removal and reunification and who have guidance to offer others as a result.
The video also highlights the value of dedicated public defenders in child welfare cases. “My public defender – she’s the reason I got my son back. She didn’t give up on me. She directed me, and she fought for me,” one mother says on the video.
Her message to others, she added, “is a message of hope – that no matter what your situation, you’re just as eligible as anyone else to get your child back.”
After a child has been removed from a parent’s care, parents have a right to a hearing in court within 72 hours (not including weekends) to contest the removal. They also have a right to legal representation at that hearing. DPD’s new video, called “What to Do If Your Child Is Removed by CPS,” walks viewers through this difficult 72-hour window – after a child has been removed but before the hearing is held – when parents are often distraught, scared, and without legal representation.
The state files nearly 800 dependency petitions in King County each year, seeking to have a child physically removed and placed in the custody of the state; each of those cases involves multiple parties, many of whom need an attorney. DPD, with nearly 30 attorneys in family defense, handles about 1,200 open and active parent cases per year.
Deborah Brown Lee, a public defender who recently practiced in one of DPD’s family defense units, urges parents to stay calm during this 72-hour period and to work closely with their attorney, once he or she is appointed.
“It’s a difficult process, and there are a lot of people involved in the process,” she says on the video. “A parent’s attorney is their bridge to every other person involved in the process, especially when things get difficult.”
“When CPS is in your life and they take your kids, it’s going to affect you,” another parent tells viewers. “But you got to get through it. You do. Because your kid is waiting for you.”
The four-minute video was produced by Jordan Melograna of Block by Block Creative and funded by the county’s Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) Opportunity Fund. Joshua Saunders, a managing attorney at DPD, said he and other public defenders came up with the idea after a discussion about the importance of family defense work and how little understood it is in the broader community. “I’ve always wanted to find a way to bring more attention to our family defense work,” he said.
He’s pleased by the results. “The video gave us a chance to help our family defense clients tell their stories outside of the courtroom. The video shows them in their homes, their communities, their children’s schools. Too often, our clients’ voices are muted. The grant from the ESJ fund gave us an opportunity to change that.”
Anita Khandelwal, the director of DPD, said the video is important not only for parents in a dependency case but also for the larger community. “By portraying real parents facing real situations, the video highlights the harm the child welfare system inflicts when it tears families apart. And it demonstrates the strength and resilience our clients must possess to navigate this harmful system.”
DPD plans to share the video in a number of different venues. For more information or to get a copy of the video, contact Tara Urs, special counsel for civil policy and practice, training and employee development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.