A Juvenile Dependency Hearing may begin with children being removed from their parents and placed in protective custody. Law Enforcement may detain children up to 72 hours for their protection if the officer believes there is a risk of neglect or abuse. When children are taken into protective custody, the officer or social worker will immediately attempt to notify the parents or guardians. If the children are not in immediate danger of neglect or abuse, and are living with a parent, relative, or friend, they may be allowed to remain there pending the court proceedings.
If children are placed in protective custody and taken from the home, there must be an investigation to decide whether the children can be safely returned to the home from which they were taken. The first investigation is made by the social worker in the Intake unit of the Department of Social Services.
If the social worker decides that the children are not significantly at risk for abuse or neglect, the children can be released to the parent(s). However, the parent(s) may be requested to sign a Family Maintenance Agreement, agreeing to certain conditions to keep the children in the home. If the parent(s) abide by the agreement for six months, no further action will be taken. If there is another report of neglect or abuse of the children, or the parents fail to abide by the agreement, the children can be removed from the home again, and a petition may be filed with the Juvenile Court.
If the social worker decides the children are at risk, the children will remain out of the home pending the court hearing. The Department of Health and Human Services must file a Petition with the Juvenile Court within 48 hours. The Petition will include a statement telling why a Dependency proceeding is considered necessary for the safety of the children. When the petition is filed with the Juvenile Court, a Detention Hearing is calendared within 72 hours.
If the children are removed from the home, the first hearing is a Detention Hearing. If the children are not removed, the first hearing is called a Jurisdiction Hearing. Both hearings advise parties of the allegations, appoint counsel (if necessary) and set a future hearing. In addition, the Detention Hearing addresses whether the children should continue to be detained pending the Jurisdiction Hearing.
At the first hearing, the parents will be assigned an attorney unless they have retained private counsel. Each parent will have their own attorney. They will also be given a copy of the petition filed by the Department of Social Services. Another Jurisdiction Hearing will be calendared.
If the children are not released to the parents, they will remain detained in their current placement.
At the Jurisdiction Hearing, the court determines whether allegations of abuse or neglect concerning a child are sustained by the evidence and are legally sufficient to support intervention on behalf of the child.
The Disposition Hearing addresses issues regarding the placement of the child. After the Jurisdiction hearing, the Social Worker will meet with the parents, investigate the facts of the case, and prepare a report for the next court hearing, the Disposition Hearing. The report will include an evaluation of the case, a reunification plan, and a recommendation regarding placement of the children. The Social Worker will also arrange visits, if Court approved, between the parents and the children.
The Reunification Plan or Case Plan outlines what the parents need to do to resolve the problems that brought the children
before the court. If the children are returned to the parents or placed with a relative, the parents will be ordered to comply with the plan. This plan may include parenting classes, counseling, visitation requirements and drug/alcohol counseling. The Social Worker will coordinate services for the parents and children. It is important for parents to cooperate with both their attorney and the Social Worker.
Review hearings are held every 6 months to review the status of each dependent child. Prior to the hearing, the supervising social worker will prepare a report which includes: (1) the recommendation regarding the continuation of services and the placement of the children; (2) a description of the services provided the parents to correct the problems which resulted in the child becoming a dependent of the Juvenile court; (3) a discussion of the parents’ progress and cooperation; (4) if the child is with the parents, a recommendation as to the need for continuing supervision and; (5) if the child is out of the home, a recommendation as to whether the child can be returned to the parents; and (6) if the child can’t be returned, an alternative permanent plan. If the report indicates that the family problems are resolved, the court may terminate dependency at this time. If problems remain which require the help of the Department, dependency will continue. Such reviews occur as long as the child remains a dependent of the Court.
After the second 6-month review hearing, if there has not been adequate progress in correcting the family’s problems, the court may conduct what is called a 366.26 hearing. At a 366.26 hearing, the Court will determine if the parental rights of the parents should be terminated. If they are terminated, an attempt will be made to find a permanent home for the child in an adoption, guardianship or long term foster placement.