What is Juvenile Dependency?
Juvenile dependency law in California
The objective of the proceedings is to protect children and safeguard or reunify families when possible.
At the start, the court should conclude whether the charges 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 return the child to his or her parent or caregiver, the aim is to give a permanent placement for the child with a relative, guardian, foster family, or adoptive parent.
What are the Dependency Proceedings?
If you are caught up in a juvenile dependency case, you must pursue specific steps until your case is determined.
The court will give details what you must do and the deadlines you have to meet. The court will try to resolve your case as rapidly as possible.
If your child/children becomes "dependents of the court," the court will create orders for you, your child, and the social worker. The court creates these orders to shield your child.
The court can order that:
- Child/children reside in your home under court supervision; or
- Child/children reside in another home also under court supervision.
Can I lose my child?
If your child/children become dependents of the court and the court does not order reunification services to assist you get back together with your child, or reunification efforts were not successful, you can lose 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 hire an attorney.
If you can't afford an 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.
Will anyone else have an attorney?
The county may have an attorney to address the court (speaks for the social worker). The court can also assign your child an attorney. That attorney's job is to represent your child's interest in court.
From time to time, the court also appoints a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate to aid your child.
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?
In the majority of cases, you can see your child if the child is not returned to you.
What happens if there's a trial?
Here are the steps you need to know:
The Right to a Trial
You have the right to a trial. At your trial, the judge will make a decision if the statements in the petition are true.
If you are going to have a trial, the judge will inform you of the trial date at your first hearing.
If you acknowledge to the court that all or some of the statements in the petition are true, or if you let the judge make a determination based on the reports given to the court, you will not have a trial.
A Report on Your Case
The social worker will make a report and provide it to the court. The report will be centered on the social worker's review of your case and discussions with you and other people. The report will suggest where your child should reside for the next 6 months (until the next court hearing) and what you and others can do to help resolve the problems that brought you and your child to court.
If the judge decides that the statements in the petition are factual, the judge will almost certainly make your child a dependent child of the court. Which means you will have only partial control over your child and your child may be taken from you.
The Case Plan
You and the social worker will make a case plan and offer it to the court. The court will most likely order that all or part of the case plan be carried out.
The case plan may comprise of:
Alcohol or drug abuse treatment
Special programs and classes
Visits with your child
If your child is taken away from you and a case plan is ordered, the social worker must include in the case plan:
- Services to help you get back together with your child, or
- If you cannot get back together with your child, services that let your child be adopted or have a guardian.
If your child is taken from you and you decide you don't want to get back together (reunify) with the child, talk to your social worker.
Also talk to your lawyer about your right to:
Say you don't want services that will help you to get back together; Give up your parental rights; and Help develop a permanent plan for your child.
What are the next steps?
The social worker and others must help you get the services listed in your case plan. Beginning on your case plan as soon as possible. You have to follow the case plan and meet your deadlines if you want to get back together with your child.
The court will review your case at least once every 6 months. At your first review hearing, the judge may decide if your child can return to your home.
If your child was under 3 years old when he or she was taken from you and you have not participated regularly in the treatment ordered in your case plan, or if you have not talked with, written to, or visited your child during the 6 months, the court can end services that help you get back together with that child.
If your child was over 3 years old and is not returned to you after 6 months, the court can order services for 6 more months.
Services to "reunify" you with your child will end in 12 months unless the court decides your child can probably get back together with you within 18 months from the time the police officer or social worker took your child away.
If the court ends services to "reunify" you with your child, there will be a hearing to make a "permanent plan" for the child to live with someone else.
What if the court makes a permanent plan for my child?
If the court decides that your child will not be returned to you, there will be a hearing within 4 months about what should happen to your child.
At that hearing, the court has only 3 choices, listed in the order that the court considers them:
- End your parental rights and order the child placed for adoption (this means that legally you are no longer the child's parent);
- Appoint a legal guardian for your child; or
- Place your child in long-term foster care.
If the plan is for adoption, you, the adoptive parents, and the child can agree that you may have contact with your child after the adoption.
If that possibility interests you, ask your lawyer to explain the post-adoption contract.
Important Things to Remember
The social worker can explain how the process works. But the social worker can't give you legal advice. If you have questions, ask your lawyer or the judge.
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.
Disclaimer: California Family Law Attorney Disclaimer