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Re: Home Study Advice.....As Soon As Possible Please!!!!

Conditions of use: accepted & agree
Date: 14 Jul 2004
Time: 23:22:11
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How can I make a "good impression"? Try to be prompt and provide responsive follow-through. Keep your appointments and be on time. If you must cancel, call the evaluator/GAL as soon as possible to let him/her know and explain why you have to reschedule. Return calls and paperwork promptly. Put on a calm front, even if your insides are chaotic. In the interview and during every phone call with the evaluator, try to be polite and calm. You may ask questions and disagree with your evaluator if necessary, but try not to lose your temper, even if you think the evaluator is rude to you. Because the GAL will not have much time to get to know you, the GAL may form an opinion of you based upon the times he/she speaks with you. Do not "attack" or badmouth the other parent or others. It is important to let the GAL/evaluator know about the other parent's problems; particularly those things that may cause (or have caused) harm to the children, such as domestic violence against you, or abuse of the children. Simply state your concerns about the other parent as calmly and reasonably as possible without attacking the other parent personally. Provide the evaluator with any written evidence you may have; for example, police reports, Protection Orders, etc. Provide the evaluator with names and current contact information for witnesses who have direct knowledge about your strengths and about the other parent's problems, and make sure these witnesses know that the evaluator may contact them and agrees to make themselves available to talk about your situation. Collect written statements from your witnesses if requested, and encourage your witnesses to be available to and cooperative with the GAL/evaluator on your case. Focus on what is good for the children. Remember that the evaluator/GAL's purpose is to find out what is in the best interests of the children - not what is in your or the other parent's best interest. If you do not understand, ask. If you don't understand something that is happening in the evaluation process, ask for help. If there is a questionnaire you must fill out and you are having trouble, ask your community advocate, lawyer, friend or relative to help you. If the evaluator tells you to do something, or asks you a question you do not understand, ask the evaluator to explain. Have an appropriate amount of contact with the GAL or evaluator: The GAL or evaluator is assigned to your case, and you are entitled to call him or her with questions or new information. However, be careful that you do not overwhelm the GAL by calling every day, or by stopping by his or her office without an appointment. The evaluator or GAL will take every contact with you into consideration when writing his or her report. Be responsive and responsible, but also try to be respectful of the GAL's time. Hopefully this will encourage the GAL to be respectful of your time as well. What steps can I take to address issues that may be important to the GAL or the court? Accept responsibility for your own problems and admit your mistakes. It is usually a good idea to admit any problems that you have up front. In most cases, the evaluator will find out about them anyway (the other parent probably knows what they are!). Take advantage of parenting resources and get help for yourself. In many cases, the evaluator will recommend parenting classes for one or both parents. You can get a head start by signing up for classes on your own. There may be free or low cost classes available. For other suggestions, ask the evaluator. Many parents find that getting counseling for themselves and their children is very helpful during a stressful family law case, especially if the children have witnessed domestic violence or have been abused. Ask your evaluator about organizations that provide counseling. If you have a mental illness, make sure you work to stabilize your condition and try to keep it stable. The fact that you have a mental illness does not mean that the court will take your children away. However, you should try to keep your illness stable so that you can show you will be able to provide consistent safe parenting for your children. If you have been prescribed medication, take it regularly and attend any counseling that has been recommended for you. If you have a doctor, counselor or advocate who can explain your illness to the evaluator and say good things about your stability and parenting skills, you should make sure to have that person contact the evaluator. Try to maintain stable housing if possible. If you move around frequently, it may look like you cannot offer a stable home to the children. (Unless you are moving to avoid domestic violence, in which case make sure you explain your reasons for moving to the evaluator). Of course, sometimes you need to move due to financial or other problems. If you do, try to do what you can to help the children cope with the move, such as taking them to counseling or getting their teachers to help prepare them for a new school. Make sure your children are up-to-date on medical care. If you do not have health insurance, you may be able to get Medicaid for your children or the Basic Health Plan at a reduced cost. Call 1-800-826-2444 for information about Basic Health. Contact your local DSHS office about Medicaid. If you are able, try to participate in the children's school. You should make every effort to get your child to school regularly and on time. You should also try to participate in the children's school events - if possible, attend field trips or other events, and make sure you go to parent-teacher conferences. If you are limited English speaking, you have the right to ask the school to provide an interpreter so that you may effectively attend teacher-parent conferences and other school events. Be careful about new relationships. Try to be cautious if entering a new romantic relationship. This might seem strange or unreasonable, however, when you are in a parenting evaluation in family court, your life is under a microscope. Any problems that your new boyfriend/girlfriend has will be viewed as a reflection on you, especially if it could somehow impact the children. Follow the Rules Be consistent in visiting with the children. If the children do not live with you but you have visits with them, you should go to the visits consistently - even if the visits are supervised and you do not like that. Be on time for picking them up and dropping them off. Do not miss a visit unless it is absolutely necessary. Supervised visits can be expensive, but try to find a way (i.e. gather resources, borrow money from family, ask for a child support credit, or try to find a neutral person to supervise who will not charge you for it) to pay for them. This will show your concern for your children to the court, and more importantly, to your children. Do not deny the other parent court-ordered visitation without a very good reason. If the children live with you and the other parent has visits under a court order, you should let the other parent visit unless you have a very good reason that you have not told the court about before. If you must cancel a visit because of an emergency (e.g. the child is too sick to go), then you should let the other parent know as soon as possible and you should offer to arrange a make-up visit. If you cancel the other parent's visit because you believe the child will not be safe (e.g., the other parent shows up and smells like he/she has been drinking), then you should make a motion in court, or try to get an emergency ex parte order allowing the change, as soon as possible to try to change the visitation schedule or parenting plan legally rather than taking matters into your own hands. Follow the court's orders. The court may have ordered you to get a drug/alcohol evaluation, to attend a parenting class, to get batterer's treatment, etc. You should do what the court orders as soon as possible, even if the other parent is not obeying the order. Be persistent - at times it takes several weeks to get an appointment. Even if you think you do not have the problem the other parent is claiming, you should get any evaluations that the court order recommends. This part of the process can be frustrating, especially when you have been ordered to do several different things. However if you have a problem, such as substance abuse, that the court might think interferes with your parenting, an evaluation or treatment is your chance to address it before the court makes a final custody decision. If you do not have the problem that the court has ordered evaluated, then you can use the information you get from the evaluation to prove in court that you do not have that problem. In addition, the court and the GAL/evaluator expect you to obey its orders and are likely to draw a negative conclusion about you if you do not. Gather Your Evidence Be active. Do not rely on the evaluator to gather information that helps you. Do what you can to get that information to the evaluator. Gather witnesses. As soon as possible after you find out who the evaluator/GAL is, give the evaluator a written list of names, addresses and telephone numbers of everyone who has helpful information about you as a parent (or about the other parent's problems). These are your "witnesses". The best witnesses are "professionals" or "neutral" people such as teachers, counselors, doctors, daycare providers, landlords, etc. Also helpful are friends, neighbors and family members. Some evaluators will not contact witnesses who are not involved with you or your family on a professional basis. Make sure you let your witnesses know that the GAL or evaluator might be contacting them, and ensure this is okay with your witnesses. Explain to your witnesses that they must return the GAL/evaluator's phone calls promptly, because if they do not return the phone call immediately, the evaluator may not have the time to try to call multiple times. If the evaluator does not contact a witness you think has important things to say, ask the witness to write a declaration, letter or statement that talks about you as a parent, about the other parent's problems, or about the children. Give a copy to the evaluator and a copy to the other parent or parent's attorney, file a copy with the original with the court, and keep a copy with your records. Keep in mind that under the law, both parents are allowed to look at the evaluator's file. If you have a reason that you do not want the other parent to know the name or address of one of your witnesses, you will need to blank out that information on anything that you send to the evaluator. Also, safety and confidentiality for you and others is sometimes over-looked by the evaluator. Gather records. Gather as much written evidence as you can that either shows that you are a good parent, or that supports your claims about the other parent's abusive conduct or other problems. Do not rely on the evaluator to do this for you! Keep in mind, however, that the other parent and his/her attorney will have access to all or most of this information if you give it to the evaluator. Some documents that can be helpful to prove the other parent's abusive conduct/substance abuse/violence: criminal records police reports medical records (for you, even if you did not tell the doctor that the other parent caused the injuries; also for the children if related to abuse) sex offender treatment records for the other parent protection orders, no contact orders, including the petition for protection order and any declarations you used to get the order (even if the orders have expired) protection orders or other family law records about the other parent abusing another spouse/partner or other children pictures of you or the children with bruises or injuries letters of apology or hate letters written to you by the other parent Some documents that can be helpful regarding your parenting of the children: school attendance records and grades; daycare records showing you picked up or dropped off the children medical records showing that you took the children for medical care certificates from parenting classes, etc. declarations from teach-ers, counselors, daycare providers, babysitters, coworkers, doctors, neighbors, friends or relatives about your parenting skills Help the evaluator understand you. Many evaluators have little experience with people who are different from them. If you are a refugee or immigrant, person of color, or you are culturally or religiously very different from the average white American, you should keep in mind that the evaluator may not understand your culture. If possible, you should look for someone from your community or church to speak with the evaluator and explain some of the cultural dynamics the evaluator may not understand. For example, if it is common in your culture for parents to allow children to stay for extended periods of time with grandparents and other relatives, you may want to ask someone from your community to talk with the evaluator about that. Professionals (such as community advocates, teachers, etc.) make the best witnesses, but even a neighbor or friend could help. How do I prepare for the interview? Ask for an interpreter (if needed). If you or a friend contact the evaluator several days before the interview, the evaluator/GAL should get an interpreter for you. You should not have to pay for an ASL (sign language) interpreter; if you have trouble speaking English, you may need to pay for your language interpreter if you can afford it. (Interpreters charge between $25 and $70 per hour). If the evaluator will not provide an interpreter, you may need to make a motion in court to ask for an interpreter to be appointed for you for free during the interviews. The court may or may not agree to pay for a language interpreter, if your request is refused, contact Columbia Legal Services or Northwest Justice Project. Appearance is important. Sometimes, the evaluator will want to interview you and the children at your home. Try to make sure its clean. Also, if the evaluator will see your car, you should clean it up too. The evaluator may look to see if the children have a bed to sleep in, toys and books, and clean clothes. Although this may seem invasive, it is important in the evaluation process. Your actions as well as your words will be noticed and observed. Remember that during an interview where the children are present, the evaluator will be looking at how you interact with the children as well as what you have to say. Evaluators are frequently impressed by discipline that focuses on setting limits, withholding privileges and does not involve spanking, harsh words or threats. The evaluator will be observing your interaction with your children during the interview. The children should not be allowed to run wild around the house while you are talking with the evaluator; if you need to, take time out to discipline them - you need to be in charge. Evaluators also look to see if the children seem comfortable with you. Do not coach the children. The evaluator will probably interview your children alone, if they are old enough. It is not a good idea to tell the children what to say if the evaluator questions them, or to have given your children any detail about the court proceedings or the allegations that the parents are making against one another. However, it is a good idea to let the children know that it is okay to speak with the evaluator and that the evaluator might ask them some questions. Follow Up Keep in touch with the evaluator. Check in once every two weeks or so. Ask if the evaluator has had trouble contacting your witnesses, and whether he/she has received any written information you sent. Ask for a copy of the report. Sometimes the evaluator/GAL will not finish the report early and will have it waiting for you when you go to your next court hearing. However, if possible, you should ask to get a copy of the report as far in advance of the next court hearing as you can. Offer to go pick it up if necessary. The earlier you get the report, the more time you will have to prepare a response for the court hearing and bring other evidence to court if necessary. If you receive the report in advance of a hearing, you should try to respond to the report in writing if there are things you believe the evaluator made mistakes about. Your response will usually be in the form of a Declaration from you explaining what you disagree with, and pointing out any discrepancies in the report. Any written response from you must be provide to all parties, the GAL, and the court (including a "working papers" copy for the judge of commissioner) in advance of the hearing. The GAL is required to provide the report at least 60 days before trial. For temporary orders hearings, a Family Court Services report is often submitted the day of the hearing. Ask the court for more time to read the report is necessary, and if you feel you need to explain or clarify anything in the report to the Judge, explain that you need to do that. If your report is submitted with a motion, or with papers in advance of a hearing, you should be prepared to point out anything you think is incorrect about the report, or to emphasize the recommendations you agree with. Until the recommendations in a report have been entered by the court in the form of an order, they are not official; they are merely recommendations.

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