Category Archives:Juveniles

California Juvenile Dependency Court: Don't Take My Child

child abuse
(Photo credit: Southworth Sailor)

California dependency law deals with minors who have been abused, neglected and/or abandoned. When minors are mistreated at home, they need someone else to look after them. So the court steps in and makes the minor a “dependent child” of the court.

The objective of the proceedings is to protect children and reunify families when possible. At the start, the court will determine whether the allegations of child abuse or neglect are factual and whether the child should be removed from the home and made a dependent of the court. When it is not in the child’s best interest to be returned to the home, the aim of the court is to place the child with a non-custodial parent, relative, or NREFM (Non-Related Extended Family Member). If none of the above are available, the child will be placed in foster care.
Under California Welfare and Institutions Code 300, a minor can become a dependent child of the court when the minor:
  • suffered serious physical harm inflicted nonaccidentally by the parent or guardian
  • suffered serious physical harm or illness as a result of failure of the parent or guardian to supervise, protect or care for the minor
  • suffered serious emotional damage as a result of the conduct of the parent or guardian
  • has been sexually abused by a parent or othermembers of the household
  • was left without any provision for support
  • has been subjected to an act(s) of cruelty by the parent or a member of the household
The Dependency Proceedings
If you are involved in a juvenile dependency case, time is of the essence and specific actions must be taken. Unlike other court systems, the Dependency court must resolve your case extremely rapidly. If your child becomes a “dependent of the court,” the court will create orders for you, your child, and the social worker. The court creates these orders to protect your child and to preserve the integrity of the case.
  • Can I lose my child? If you are offered Family Reunification Services and fail to comply with the Court-ordered case plan, you may be at risk of losing your child.
  • Why is the court involved? The precise reasons are in the petition and other court papers you may have received. Read the petition thoroughly.
  • Do I need an attorney? You have the right to have an attorney represent you in a juvenile dependency case. You are permitted to reschedule your first court hearing for a short time so that you can  retain a private attorney. If you can’t afford a private attorney, ask the court to appoint one for you. If you have enough money, the court may ask you to pay the attorney’s fees.
  • What will happen in the first hearing? If your child was taken away from you, the judge will come to a decision at the first hearing if your child will be reunited with you until the next court hearing. Tell the social worker or your lawyer about any relatives the child can stay with until the next hearing. If the judge does not permit your child to be returned to you, it is typically better for the child to stay with family.
  • Will I be able to see my child? If your child is not returned to you, unless visits are considered detrimental, the Court will make a visitation order.
The Detention Hearing

Once Children and Family Services (“CFS” or sometimes “CPS”) are involved, this is the initial hearing.  If your child has been removed from you, the Court will determine whether your child should be returned to you under the Court’s supervision until the next court hearing.  If your child cannot be returned to you, you should advise the social worker and your lawyer about any relatives and/or Non-Related Extended Family Members who are willing to have your child placed with them.

The Jurisdictional/Dispositional Hearing
The proceeding at which the Court determines whether allegations of abuse or neglect concerning a child are true or not is called a Jurisdictional Hearing. This hearing provides the basis for state intervention into a family. The parents are entitled to a trial to prove or disprove the allegations as stated by the social worker’s petition. The standard for this hearing is very very low. Unlike a criminal court, where a person is found “guilty” “beyond a reasonable doubt”, the dependency court finds the petition “true” or “false” by a “preponderance of the evidence”.     To meet this “preponderance standard,” CFS is only required to show if the abuse or neglect is likely to have occurred (i.e. 51% likelihood that it happened).

The Dispositional Hearing addresses placement of the child, whether services will be offered to the parent(s) or guardian(s), visitations, etc.  Sometimes, the child is returned home under the Court’s supervision with the agreement from the parent(s) to comply with the Case Plan. Other times the child has to remain out of the care of the parent(s) while the parent(s) works on the case plan designed to address the issues that led to the removal of the child.

The Case Plan
The Case Plan tells the parent(s) what he/she needs to do to resolve the problems that brought the case before the Court. This plan may include:
  • a parenting program
  • a substance abuse program
  • a 12-step program (i.e. Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous)
  • random drug testing
  • a domestic violence program
  • an anger management program
  • psychological/psychiatric evaluation

In cases involving serious physical, sexual, emotional abuse, torture, or death of a child, CFS may recommend that a parent or guardian not be offered family reunification services designed to reunify the family.

Status Review Hearings

The Court is required to review the status of each dependent child regularly. These Review Hearings are held every six months. Prior to each review, the supervising social worker will prepare a report and discuss the recommendation with the parent. This report describes the services offered so far in the case, the parent or guardian’s progress on the case plan, and what additional services should be provided to the parent (if any are needed) to correct the problems which led to the removal of the child.

If the child was previously returned to the parent or guardian, the recommendation may be to continue the case under the Court’s supervision or dismiss the case.  If the child was not previously returned, the recommendation may be to return the child under the Court’s supervision, continue the parent or guardian’s services while the child remains out of the home, or terminate the parent or guardian’s reunifications services.  If the recommendation is to terminate services, the Court will either establish a Permanent Plan Living Arrangement for the child or set a hearing to establish a permanent plan for the child which may include termination of parental rights or guardianship for the child.

Important Things to Remember

  1. Time is of the essence!  The Court will not make a child wait for the parent or guardian to get their act together.  If there is a child under the age of three (3) at the time of removal, the parent or guardian may be limited to only six (6) months of reunification services.  If all the children were over the age of three (3) at the time of removal, the parent or guardian may receive upt ot twelve (12) months of reunification services.
  2. The social worker can explain how the process works.  But remember that the social worker is not necessarily looking out for your best interests and cannot give you legal advice.  If you have questions about your rights, contact a Juvenile Dependency attorney as soon as possible!
  3. Stay in constant contact with your social worker.  Keep the social worker updated regarding your current whereabouts and your progress on your case plan.
  4. You must tell the court and the social worker where to mail you documents about your child. If you change your mailing address, you must tell your social worker immediately.
  5. This may be obvious, but maintain as much contact as possible with your child!  Make sure to attend all visitations that are offered to you.
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