When parents are deceased, incarcerated, alcoholic, mentally ill or addicted to drugs, the state often has to step in and find someplace for the children of those parents to live.
Ideally, when children are removed from a home in a crisis, they're supposed to be placed with relatives whenever possible, rather than placed with strangers in the foster care system. The logic is sound. After all, who is more likely to love and nurture a child than his or her own relatives, right?
Well, Hawaii used to have an excellent record when it comes to placing kids with their family members. In part, that may be because state law requires relatives of a child up for foster care to be given an application within 15 days of expressing an interest.
However, shortly after being lauded for its practices in 2016, Hawaii began to slip up. A 2017 federal review of the child welfare system in the state determined that Hawaii was lacking when it came to placing children in need with their own relatives.
In addition, relatives are pretty much at the mercy of whatever the court decides is in a child's best interests -- and that decision could be based largely on whatever the caseworker from Children's Services has to say. In some instances, that can prove disastrous for family members.
For example, one Hawaiian grandmother asked a child welfare worker to temporarily place her grandson in foster care to protect him from his mentally ill and addicted mother until she could gain custody. Because the caseworker incorrectly claimed that the grandmother had admitted to being "incapable of caring" for her grandson, she has since been denied custody -- despite her desperate efforts to regain it following his mother's death. She's now filing a lawsuit in a bid to force the state to reassign her grandson's custody.
Attorneys say that "relatively low-ranking people having the discretion to make some very important decisions" is a huge part of the problem.
If you're a relative (grandparent or otherwise) seeking custody of a child, it's smart to talk to an attorney early in the process. That way, you may be able to avoid mistakes that could endanger your case down the line.