What is a “Voluntary” Case?

The Department of Human Services most often becomes involved with a family because of a report of child abuse or neglect. During the initial assessment in the home, the Intake Social Worker determines if abuse/neglect has occurred and assesses any safety concerns of the children. If there is a finding that abuse/neglect has occurred the worker must act by offering services through a Voluntary Case or a Juvenile Court Case called a Dependency and Neglect Petition. A Voluntary Case is appropriate when the family is engaged in services with the Department to resolve safety needs of their children. The agency prefers to open a Voluntary Case to engage families and work as a team to resolve issues. 

 Factors that are considered in opening a Voluntary Case are: The severity of the abuse/neglect, the immediate safety needs of the child, the willingness of the parents to accept responsibility for their actions and their willingness to accept services to help them address the issues which lead to the incident. Many of the cases at the Department of Human Services are opened on a voluntary basis. We acknowledge that life stressors such as substance abuse, loss of employment or loss of a partner happen and may be contributing factors in the parent’s response to a child. If we can ensure the safety of the children and help the parents to resolve issues without fling a court case, we are meeting our objective to keep families together with minimal intrusion from our agency and the legal system. 

 Voluntary Placement & Kinship Care 

 If in the initial assessment it is determined that a child needs to be removed from the home in order to improve safety and Denver Department of Human Services has opened a Voluntary Case, the Department can offer the parents the opportunity to voluntarily place their children out of the home while they resolve their issues. This arrangement is called a Voluntary Placement Agreement. Our preferred out-of-home placement for children and youth is Voluntary Kinship Care with family members or friends of the family who have strong connections to the children. The social worker works with the parents to find appropriate family members or adult friends capable of providing temporary care for the children. The parents and the social worker both sign a legal contract called a Voluntary Placement Agreement giving the Department of Human Services authority to place the children with family or kin. The caseworker will develop a Family Treatment Plan and the Department will provide therapeutic or other necessary services for the parents and children. Placement into Voluntary Kinship Care is short term. The parents; in partnership with the Department, have ninety days to complete the conditions of their Treatment Plan. Successful completion of the Treatment Plan in ninety days will result in the return of all children to the home and a closure of the Voluntary Case. 

Studies have shown that children in Kinship Care do better at moving through the trauma of being removed from the home and can be successfully reunited with their parents sooner than in any other type of placement.

Benefits of Voluntary Kinship Care

Voluntary Placement into Kinship Care has numerous benefits to the family including: 

  • Maintaining children in a safe family environment known to them; 
  • Can significantly shorten the amount of time a child is placed out of the home;
  • Ability for the parents and children to maintain familial relationships through visitation;
  • Allows relatives or friends to support the parents and children during difficult times; 
  • Allows the parents to resolve their issues without the additional stressors of court involvement;
  • Voluntary Kinship Providers arenot required to be licensed;  
  • Voluntary Kinship Providers are eligible to apply for TANF, Medicaid and Food Assistance to help provide care for the children.

Certified Kinship Care

If the Intake Worker determines that the family’s issues cannot be resolved through a Voluntary Case or if the family does not complete their Treatment Plan in the ninety days allowed on a Voluntary Case, the worker will file a Dependency and Neglect Petition (D and N) alleging child abuse/neglect against the parents in Denver Juvenile Court.

The Courts also acknowledge that children placed out of the home do better with family members or family friends. The Judge presiding over the case may still allow Voluntary Kinship placement if an appropriate Kinship Provider is available or can be found. One example of this is: a parent is accused of abuse/neglect and the grandparents stand up and agree to take full responsibility of the child. The Judge may allow the grandparents to assume Voluntary Placement for the child. Again, the primary factors considered are the severity of abuse/neglect, the safety needs of the child and the willingness of the parents to comply with a Court Ordered Treatment Plan.

The legal requirement for family members to become Licensed Foster Care Providers for the child is the difference between Voluntary and Certified Kinship Care.

In many cases the Judge may order the legal and physical custody of the children to the Department of Human Services and order the Department to place the children out of the home.  This order makes the Department legally obligated to keep the children safe. Voluntary Kinship Care is not an option if the Department of Human Services has legal custody of the children. In our efforts to keep families together, Certified Kinship Care is offered as an option for placement if a family member or friend is willing to become certified.

The requirements to become a Certified Kinship Provider are similiar to those to become a General Foster Care Provider. They are:

  • Be in good physical and emotional health;
  • Exhibit family stability and good communication skills;
  • Sufficient income to support self and family;
  • Meet State requirements for housing, safety, space and equipment;
  • Open to learning new styles of parenting;
  • A U.S. citizen or legal resident;
  • Pass a criminal background check;
  • Ability to accept and appreciate cultural differences
The difference between Formal Kinship Care and General Foster Care is that the certification process for Formal Kinship Care must be completed within sixty days of the child’s placement with the kin.

Benefits of Certified Kinship Care

The benefits of Certified Kinship Care are almost identical to those of Voluntary Kinship care. These benefits include:
  • Maintaining children in a safe family environment known to them;
  • Can significantly shorten the amount of time a child is placed out of the home;
  • Ability for the parents and children to maintain familial relationships through visitation; 
  • Allows relatives or friends to support the parents and children during difficult times; 
  • Allows the parents to resolve their issues even though there is court involvement; 
  • Certified Kinship Providers are legally required to become Licensed Foster Care Providers;
  • Certified Kinship Providers receive a reimbursement to offset costs of the child’s care. Medical and dental expenses are covered by Medicaid.