Releases and Other Details

Fit Parent's Guide to Protecting Your Rights While You Work Through the Court Process

This page is rather fun to write for me.  It came about in my recent fit parent case.  The problem was that the current court order specified that fit dad had to have Family Strength come in for parenting "help" for some part of his visitation with his child.  His old visitation supervisor was from NFI, who went out of business during the winter of 2004-05.  When the Family Strength caseworker came to his home, she wanted dad to sign all sorts of releases.  Dad got suspicious, and sent them along to me. 

The problem in a nutshell is this:  Whether you challenge a court order or not, you have to make a good faith effort to comply with the court order unless and until it is overturned. 

 I didn't want any more visitation supervisors around for fit dad, but accomplishing that until there was a court hearing was another matter.  When dad called me about the excessive paperwork the Family Strength caseworker wanted him to sign, I stepped in.  In the process of protecting dad's rights before we got to Superior Court or back to District Court, I inadvertently succeeded in keeping the caseworker out of the house altogether.  You may not succceed in keeping the visitation supervisor out of the house, but you DO have rights.

First, my letter to Family Strength regarding the releases:

Family Strength
Administrative Office
85 N. State St.
Concord, NH 03301

Re: Fit Father

I represent [fit father], an adjudicated FIT parent under the Child Protection Act, who, despite the fact that the [   ]  District Court ruled him fit in July of last year, is under continual court order to have a parent aide for his “visitation.”  RSA 169-C:19-e states:

     – A parent who has not been charged with abuse or neglect shall be afforded, upon request, a full hearing in the district or family court regarding his or her ability to obtain custody. At the hearing, the parent shall be provided the opportunity to present evidence pertaining to his or her ability to provide care for the child and shall be awarded custody unless the state demonstrates, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he or she has abused or neglected the child or is otherwise unfit to perform his or her parental duties.

    My client is receiving services from your agency based on an ORDER from the [   ]  District Court for continuing services in violation of his right to full custody of his child.  That ORDER is currently being appealed through a WRIT OF CERTIORARI to the [    ]  Superior Court.  I also asked that [client ] be relieved of any financial responsibility for “services” provided since he was adjudicated a fit parent on [date redacted] 2004.  If granted, it’s very likely that [   ] County Human Services would ask DCYF to reimburse them for unnecessary services.  I suspect that DCYF is (or was until I came along) looking for find fault with him through documented parent aide reports so they can put his child up for adoption with the foster mother without the benefit of an actual abuse or neglect petition or finding. I’ve certainly seen this behavior before by DCYF.

    There is no court order for any set number of hours of parent aid services.  

    With this background in mind, my client faxed me a large package of papers that his Family Strength Parent Aid asked him to sign as a prerequisite to receiving Family Strength’s services.  I was frankly confounded by the fact that all of the Family Strength documentation calls their services “health services.”  This makes me think that they will be attempting to bill Medicaid for their services.   As an attorney who represents parents in neglect cases, I find that label disturbing.  None of my clients can access Family Strength Services with their Medicaid or other medical insurance coverage.  If a parent cannot get the services with their own Medicaid or medical insurance coverage, their services are not “health” related. 

    As for my client needing to sign releases for Family Strength to release its information to DCYF, I will point you to the fact that the services are court ordered.  Specifically, the order states: DCYF “shall arrange for Family Strength to provide parent aid services so that a new parent aide may be assigned as soon as possible.”  It doesn’t give or suggest a frequency for parent aide services.  Since we both know that DCYF can’t provide parent aide services 24/7 while the parent has the child, and given the current state of the litigation, might I suggest a one hour visit once a month prearranged to see how things are going at home?

    As for the specific documents the Family Strength person asked [my client]. to sign:

    1.    Authorization to disclose health information to county.

        We dispute that these are health related costs, and I won’t advise my client to sign it. He certainly cannot access Family Strength services directly and expect Medicaid to pay for them.  The county is already getting the bill from DCYF, so there is no need for him to disclose anything to the county unless he suspects Family Strength is engaging in defrauding the state.  He will certainly do that voluntarily if necessary.

    2.    Payment for Court-Mandated Services Information for Families.

        This document states that the state has a right to collect from the parents under RSA 169-D:29.  This is not a case under RSA 169-D, so it is the incorrect form.  The father is disputing the fact that he should be required to pay for parent aid services in the absence of a finding he abused or neglected his child. To the extent that RSA 169-C:27 might create a financial liability on a fit parent not before the court, he is challenging the constitutionality of that law in Superior Court.  My client would prefer to wait until the Superior Court rules on that challenge before signing the form. Since Family Strength relies on payment from DCYF, not signing that form should not impact your ability to provide services in the interim.  If we prevail in the Superior Court proceeding, DCYF will have to figure out how to pay Family Strength for these services anyway.


        This document states that “Family Strength may charge you a reasonable fee” for its reports.  The father is entitled to anything done by a contractor of DCYF by virtue of his right to reasonable discovery.  It is expected, with the limitation mentioned below, that Family Strength will provide its records directly to DCYF.  He will not pay Family Strength directly for any copies.  The balance of the information seems to comply with the new medical privacy requirements, and we dispute that this is a health related matter, as stated above.

    4.    Child Health Support Services Release of Confidential Information. 
        My client doesn’t mind signing a release for DCYF as until the order for services is successfully challenged, it remains a valid ORDER.  However, I will advise him to strike the references to “HEALTH” in the release before signing it.   I will add that the authorization is ONLY valid IF the Superior Court upholds the ORDER FOR SERVICES, so Family Strength needs to be aware of the current state of the court order before releasing any documents to DCYF. FAMILY STRENGTH SHOULD NOT RELEASE ANY DOCUMENTS OR INFORMATION TO DCYF UNLESS AND UNTIL THE SUPERIOR COURT UPHOLDS THE ORDER.

    5.    Permission to Transport a Minor Child.

        My client is providing his own transportation for his child, so this is unnecessary.

    6.    Judicial Branch - Superior Court Financial Affidavit

        This court form is used by the superior court in divorce and custody proceedings.  I can’t imagine why Family Strength wants or needs financial information on my client, and I will advise him not to sign it.  [case specific material deleted.]

    I would hope that these obvious changes in the signature requirements of your agency are acceptable. 


                                Paula J. Werme

[End of letter]

Knowing that Family Strength got this letter before the worker returned to Dad's house to get her releases signed, I made the changes I described on the release to DCYF.  I limited the people with which the information could be shared to DCYF and the guardian ad litem, and I made the release valid only when and if the ORDER for services was upheld by the Superior Court. 

It wasn't my fault that Family Strength refused to even provide services under those restriction.  My client made a good faith effort to comply with the order while he was challenging it, and we never saw them again!

I'd call that a good  day's work of creative lawyering!

Last updated 2005 April 20