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What Happens if Your Child is Subject to a CHIPS Action?

Posted on in Family Law

Milwaukee juvenile and family court attorneys, juvenile court, family court, CHIPS action, parental rightsBy Max Stephenson and Ray Dall’Osto

A child in need of protection or services (CHIPS) action is brought under Chapter 48, Wis. Stats., when a child (person under age 18) is believed by the government to be in need of protection and/or services. Such cases are initiated, and juvenile court jurisdiction exists under section 48.13, over a child when the child is:

1. Without a parent or guardian;

2. Abandoned;

2(m). When a parent has relinquished custody;

3. Victim of physical or sexual abuse or injury, including self-inflicted injury;

3(m). Who is at substantial risk of becoming the victim of abuse or being injured, based on reliable and credible information that another child in the home has been the victim of abuse;

4. Whose parent or guardian signs the petition requesting jurisdiction and are unable or need assistance to provide special treatment or care for the child;

4(m). When the child has special needs, but the guardian is unable or unwilling to sign the petition;

5. When the child is placed for care or adoption in violation of law;

6. When the child is receiving inadequate care when a parent is incarcerated, hospitalized or missing;

7. Who is at least 12 years old, signs the petition and is in need of special care or treatment-parent not being provided;

8. When the parent or guardian neglects, refuses or is unable for reasons other than poverty to provide necessary care, so as to seriously endanger physical health of child, or at risk of this serious endangerment;

8(m). When the parent or guardian is at substantial risk of neglecting, refusing or is unable for reasons other than poverty to provide the necessary care, so as to seriously endanger physical health of child;

9. When the child is suffering emotional damage and parent not providing necessary treatment;

9(m). When the child has an alcohol or drug abuse impairment to severe degree and parent not providing treatment; and

10. When a child has not been immunized.

Each county in Wisconsin must follow the same process by which a child can be found in need of protection and/or service. This is a very important process as it involves the state government interfering with parental rights. Parents of children subject to a CHIPS petition must have their own legal representative dedicated to preserving their parental rights.

All CHIPS cases begin the same way—an individual or agency files a report with Child Protective Services (CPS) alleging a parent or guardian is abusing and/or neglecting a child, or for one of the previously mentioned reasons. These reports can come from school, from family members, from friends, from neighbors, mandatory reporters or as a result of related criminal or family court matters.

A social worker from CPS will then investigate this claim to determine whether the child is in fact being abused and/or neglected (the social worker will either substantiate or not substantiate the claim/s). It is important to note that regardless of the outcome of this investigation, a record of the report and subsequent investigation will be kept on file with CPS. If the investigation leads to an unsubstantiated claim of abuse and/or neglect, the process stops there. If the investigation leads to a substantiated claim of abuse and/or neglect, the State of Wisconsin (by either the District Attorney or Corporation Counsel) will file a CHIPS petition seeking state intervention.

Those participating in CHIPS proceedings are as follows:

  1. The parents of the minor child subject to the CHIPS petition;

  2. Attorneys for each of the parents;

  3. A Guardian Ad Litem(GAL) – an attorney appointed to represent the best interests of the minor child who is alleged to be in need of protection or services;

  4. A social worker assigned to the case;

  5. The State of Wisconsin by way of either the District Attorney or Corporation Counsel; and

  6. The Judge handling juvenile court matters.

An initial hearing will be held on the CHIPS petition called a plea hearing. At the plea hearing, the parents are presented with the CHIPS petition alleging abuse and/or neglect. The court will also determine if the child/ren subject to the petition are safe remaining in the home.

In the event the child/ren are removed from the home, it is critical that parents follow all rules related to communication with the child/ren. Failure to do so could result in the start of a Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) action. Also, a parent or guardian in a CHIPS case may receive a notice of Final Determination of Substantiated Child Maltreatment. What parents must promptly do if faced with a TPR action or Child Maltreatment Determinations will be covered in future blog articles.

After reviewing the petition and the allegations, which should be done with experienced legal counsel, the parents have several options:

The first option parents have is to stipulate to the facts alleged in the petition and proceed to a dispositional hearing. At the dispositional hearing, the state will make recommendations as to what services are needed, whether the child should remain with the parents and discuss a future plan to reunify the parents with their child/ren. These services may include various forms of therapy, graduated visitation and placement, and sobriety.

Alternatively, one or both of the parents can contest the facts alleged in the CHIPS petition. If this happens, the matter is set over for a contested hearing. This contested hearing is a bench trial, meaning the state, the GAL and the parents can present evidence to the judge. The judge will then make findings of fact and apply necessary law in fashioning a disposition order. Even if the parents decide to go this route, the state may remove the child/ren from one or both of the parents pending the trial.

Finally, the parents can enter a no contest plea to the allegations. In this circumstance, the court would proceed as if the parents stipulated to the facts, however, the parents never admitted to the facts as being true. This can be important if there is a related criminal matter involving one or both parent.

Once the dispositional order is entered, the parties will continue to appear in court on a periodic basis. This is to ensure the parents are cooperating with the state and following through with the required services as ordered by court. When all required steps are taken by the parent and the state is satisfied that the child may be reunified with the parent, the CHIPS matter is concluded and the state is no longer involved.

Contact a Milwaukee, WI CHIPS and Juvenile Court Defense Attorney

If you, a family member, or friend face a CHIPS or TPR action, or receive notice of Substantiation of Child Maltreatment, you need an experienced attorney who can provide you with expert, individualized investigation and representation to give you the best chance to preserve your parental rights. The author of this article and his fellow lawyers at GRGB have represented many individuals who have faced these kinds of cases, in juvenile and family courts, at contested hearings and on appeal.

Call the experienced Milwaukee juvenile and family court attorneys at Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown LLP at 414-271-1440.

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