Juvenile Dependency

Juvenile Dependency

Accusations of child neglect or abuse by parents or guardians can result in a juvenile dependency case. These types of legal cases may result in a child being removed from the home, the parents losing their parental rights and unable to see their children.

Parents have a right to have a lawyer during these proceedings, and the attorneys at Fischer & Van Thiel have represented many clients facing this process.  It’s critical you obtain an experienced attorney to protect your parental rights are protected and the bests interests of your child are served.  As soon as your child is removed, get legal advice immediately. Learn about your rights, the process and try to resolve the case immediately,

  • Each juvenile dependency case is unique but one thing is the same. It’s important to attempt to keep the family together during the litigation process,
  • Our priority is getting your child back. We frequently are able to put together a plan of services to resolve your family’s issues and start you on those services so your child can be reunited with your family,
  • A temporary placement with a family member or have a relative join the family and help with caring for the child may be other options, and
  • We have represented clients in many kinds of child abuse cases, including those involving  sexual abuse, severe physical abuse to a child younger than five and those involving deceased children.

Juvenile Dependency goals

If your child becomes a dependent of the court, the court will make orders for you, your child and social worker. The court may allow your child to live in your home under court supervision or your child will be placed outside your home. If reunification efforts aren’t ordered, or if they fail, your child could be adopted.

  • The goal of these proceedings is to protect children and preserve or reunify families whenever possible,
  • Initially, the court must determine whether the allegations of child abuse or neglect are true and whether the child should be removed from the home and made a dependent of the court,
  • If it’s not in the child’s best interest to reunify the family, the goal is to provide a permanent placement for the child.

The process

Juvenile dependency cases start with the involvement of the Child Protective Services (CPS) due to charges of child abuse or neglect. If CPS takes your child out of your home, they will file a petition in Juvenile Court stating the allegations.

During the Detention Hearing, the judge will decide whether your child should be returned to your home. If not, you normally will be able to visit your child and the court will tell the parents where and how they can get help so the child can return.

At the Jurisdictional Hearing, the judge decides if the allegations in the petition are true. The parents or guardians may admit the petition is true, they could decide not to disagree with the petition or they can dispute, or contest, the petition. Both sides give the Court evidence at a hearing and the judge decides if the allegations in the petition to be true or not.

If the judge decides the petition is true, the Court will probably make your child a dependent of the court. You control over your child will be limited and the child may be removed from your custody. A case plan will be worked out. It will list services to try to reunify family and also services to achieve legal permanence in case reunification fails. For parents, following the plan and proposed timeline are key to achieving reunification.

If the judge decides the allegations in the petition are true, at the Disposition Hearing the Court will state what should happen with the child. The judge can:

  • Dismiss the case,
  • Let the child live with a parent on “family maintenance” with the social worker and the judge supervising the child,
  • Take the child away from the parents and send the child to live with a relative, foster parent or group home and offer the parents family reunification services, or
  • Take the child away from the parents and not offer family reunification services to get their child back. There will be a hearing in 120 days to decide where the child will live permanently.

At each stage, the judge will consider whether the child should go back home and the reunification services required so the child safe will be safe while reuniting the family. There is a finite period of time for the family to be reunited. If the reunification efforts fail, the juvenile dependency case may end with the termination of your parental rights.

If you have any questions about juvenile dependency laws or procedures, contact Fischer & Van Thiel today at 760-722-7669.

Q & A with Fischer & Van Thiel

What is juvenile dependency?

Juvenile dependency is basically a court system which is part of Juvenile Court. There are two parts to juvenile court; there is juvenile dependency and juvenile delinquency. Juvenile delinquency is, obviously, when children under the age of 18 commit crimes and get charged as juveniles.

Juvenile dependency usually has to do with child abuse, neglect or abandonment. How you get a juvenile dependency case is somehow the family comes to the attention of Child Protective Services, whether via an anonymous referral, through a mandated reporter such as a doctor or teacher, or through a referral from law enforcement. Law enforcement has contact with the family and comes to believe that a child is being abused or neglected, or is at risk of abuse or neglect. Child Protective Services (CPS) investigates and CPS has a lot of different options in terms of how to deal with child abuse and neglect, and to deal with families who have problems. Ultimately, CPS through their lawyer, who is county counsel, has the option to remove the child from parental care and file a petition in juvenile dependency court to ask the dependency court to take jurisdiction over the child to protect the child, to make placement options, and make decisions regarding the child.

Also, the parents are entitled, in most cases, to receive parental reunification services where there are certain classes or certain things they have to do to fix the problems within the family. The cases are reviewed periodically. The first goal is reunification with one or both parents. However, there are certain time frames, between six and eighteen month time frames, that the parents have an opportunity to participate in the re unification services. Either one or both parents are going to be successful, or the juvenile court has the power to select an alternative permanent plan for the children which can be adoption, guardianship, or long term foster care, now known as “another plan permanent living arrangement”. The acronym we use for that is APPLA.

How can an attorney help in a juvenile dependency case?

In terms of adoption, mostly my firm represents one of the parents in the juvenile dependency case. Our primary goal is preventing adoption and termination of parental rights. We want to get the case as soon as the children are removed. We want to get a clear understanding of what the alleged problems are that led to the removal. If there are issues that need to be addressed within the family, we want to get the parents going in services, and we want them to clearly understand what they need to do in order to get their child back. We assist them by making sure they are compliant and doing everything they can do in order to complete the case plan so that the child never has to go to a permanent plan.

Regarding foster care, one of the main issues of foster care is there are certain stages in the juvenile dependency process. The first stage is the initial hearing; it is called the detention hearing, basically akin to a criminal arraignment. You do a lot of housekeeping and things of that nature, and understand exactly what the petition says as to why Child Protective Services (CPS) thinks that the child needs protection. After the initial hearing, the next stage of the procedure is called jurisdiction and disposition which, basically, is whether the juvenile court is going to take jurisdiction and remain involved with the child and this family and whether the petition is true, or at least, there is enough alleged that CPS can prove that the juvenile court needs to remain involved with the family.

At the disposition hearing, what we are primarily doing is determining what the level of placement is going to be for the child or the children, and what types of reunification services the parents may or may not have to do. One of our big goals at the beginning of the case is trying to get as many children out of foster care as possible and whether we can get them home to one or both parents. Sometimes we are turning to one parent versus the other, because it is going to be quicker. You see that in a lot of domestic violence cases where you have a domestic violence perpetrator and you have a victim. If the two of them are willing to live in separate households until they can work on their problems and resolve their issues, frequently we can get the children back to the victim in this case, if she is willing to protect a little more quickly, so we can keep the children out of foster care. Another possible option is that relatives can be evaluated as an option instead of foster care. Frequently, reunifications go more smoothly when you have a relative providing care because they can provide a lot more contact, visitation and support for the parents. So that is another big issue of disposition; let’s try to get the children back to one of the parents, or both of the parents first. If, for whatever reason, that is not going to happen right away, we can get relatives evaluated to provide an option to provide temporary care for the children instead of foster care.

In terms of removal from the home or the caretaker, a lot of time I like to talk to my clients as soon as they become the subject of a CPS investigation, even before the petition is filed. CPS has a number of options. They are obviously going to want to interview the parents, interview the child or children, take a look at the home, and depending on what the allegations are, they are going to have a number of questions for the family and the children. Sometimes, the CPS comes out and there is nothing of a big deal going on, or there does not appear to be any indication that the child is being abused or being neglected even though they have received a referral or have been sent out to investigate. A lot of times it is very important from the very beginning how you handle CPS, how you talk to them, that you are honest and disclose to them any concerns they may have. They may find the whole thing unfounded and take no further action.

They also have an option short of filing in court. It is called voluntary services which is where the parent and CPS can, basically, sign a written contract as to what types of services they could voluntarily participate in without the courts involvement, and allowing CPS to come and check on the child or children for a certain period of time. The benefits of the voluntary contract is that the juvenile court does not get involved. As long as you work successfully with CPS, you do not have court involvement and you do not risk removal from the home, and/or the family to reunify, and/or permanent plans; such as adoption. That is why I think it is so important to talk to an attorney as soon as you receive information that you are being investigated by CPS. If there is anything you can do to quell CPS concerns or to participate in parenting classes or something that would cause them not to file a petition in juvenile court that is a good thing.

What factors determine a juvenile dependency hearing?

The whole heart and soul of a juvenile dependency hearing is whether the juvenile court needs to get involved; what the problems in the family are; what each member of the family, the mother and father, is willing to do to take care of these problems; and how quickly the risks and concerns of Child Protective Services can be alleviated so we can get these children home as soon as possible. It really has to do with risk of abuse or neglect, whether the children are being exposed to domestic violence or other violence in the home and not being protected in the home. It is risk and how we can alleviate that risk, how we can alleviate that risk to place the child back in the family home, and what is the best interest of the child as well.

What is the role of the minor’s counsel in the juvenile dependency court process?

The role of the minor’s counsel is as a guardian ad litem for the child, to visit them, to address any questions they have if they are verbal enough to ask questions, to advocate directly for the child’s best interest. It is very important if you have an attorney representing a parent that you know how to work well with minor’s counsel because not only does the CPS social worker weigh in on when to return the child, what services have to be done, how are we going to make this family better and safer so that the child can be home, but minor’s counsel also has a say in that, too, so you have to be able to work closely both with the social worker and the minor’s counsel. The social worker makes recommendations, but the minor’s counsel has every right to object or make their own suggestions based on their role of representing the child. So, it is important to work with both sides.

Why would your firm be the best choice for a juvenile dependency case?

I had worked in juvenile dependency exclusively for eight years before I went into private practice representing parents and children. I know most of the social workers professionally over the years, and many of the same attorneys who I worked with before the representation switched over to a nonprofit, I worked with before together with all of their supervisors. I am very familiar with the judges who handle juvenile court, and have appeared in front of them both in dependency and delinquency. So, I have much experience dealing with the child welfare services professionals. I have seen a lot of different types of cases and it is fairly simple for me to look over a case and start evaluating and come up with an action plan pretty rapidly. I am usually able to work well with the professionals on the case to get a quick and favorable resolution. We have an excellent reunification rate in this firm, and we have an excellent track record for getting children home at disposition because that is really the critical juncture of the case in my mind. You need to get through the detention hearings. You need the detention hearings because the child is out of home care. You need to be able to handle jurisdictional issues, that is , whether or not the petition is true, whether or not the juvenile court should be involved with the child. That is its own separate issue.

Some cases have more jurisdictional or truth of the allegations issues than others. But the heart and soul of it, even beyond whether juvenile court is going to be involved, is how good we can make this case by disposition because the court does not set a review after disposition until six months. So, you are going to have a lot of time go by where the case will not be in front of the court. I think what is important is to put a lot of work in the case between the Detention and Disposition. Try to get that child home. If you cannot do that, try to get unsupervised, try to get overnights, and try to get a relative placement. Try to make this case as well situated as possible so it can go smoothly. I have a lot of cases that are ready to be closed six months in and completely successful for reunification. In my mind, it is all about working from the very beginning, preferably as soon as you become aware that you are being investigated by Child Protective Services.