Juvenile dependency court can have a significant impact on the lives and futures of children and families. In most cases, a dependency case comes to court shortly after a child has been removed from their home by the police or a social worker. The police or social worker may remove a child from their home if they have a reason to believe the child is not safe, or if there is a credible threat against the safety and well-being of the child.
The court’s authority for dependency cases is found within the California Welfare and Institutions Code. (WIC § 300 et seq.)
If your child has been taken into protective custody, you will be notified to appear in court by a social worker. The social worker will try to contact you in-person or over the telephone and provide you with a date and time to appear at the courthouse.
If your children are taken into protective custody, and you are not aware of the circumstances, you may call the Orangewood Children’s Center for more information.
The circumstances of a dependency case will determine when and which type of dependency hearing will take place. The juvenile dependency court is responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of children that have been, or are at a significant risk of becoming, abused or neglected. The court’s role is to ensure that the rights of children and their family are protected and exercised in accordance with the law. The court also ensures that the government has performed its duties as appropriate under the law and appoints an attorney to represent each parent/guardian and child.
During these hearings the court will consider several issues related to each case. The court may consider information regarding the severity of allegations, the age of the children, police and social worker reports, medical and psychiatric reports, family history, kinship (relatives), and oral arguments from attorneys. Attorneys are appointed by the court for each child and parent/guardian for each case. Testimony may be heard from people such as social worker(s), police officers, parents, family members, doctors, teachers, witnesses, and in some cases by the child(ren).
The following chart illustrates the process and related time-frames of dependency hearings:
Dependency court hearings are initiated when the Social Services Agency files a petition with the court. The petition identifies the child(ren) and parent(s) involved with the case, and describes the allegations of abuse or neglect against the child(ren). The court clerk files the petition and assigns the case to a courtroom for an initial hearing. The initial hearing is also called a "detention hearing" if a child has been taken from their home and placed into protective custody.The following actions occur at the detention hearing:
If the court places a child away from a parent, the court may make visitation orders so the parent(s) can see the child(ren). The court will also tell the parent(s) where they can get help so the child(ren) can be returned into their custody.
The court also decides if the Social Service’s Agency made a "reasonable effort" to keep the child(ren) with the parents.
Before the judge accepts an admission or submission, the court has to be sure the parent(s)/guardian(s) want to "waive" (give up) their right to a trial. This means the parent(s)/guardian(s) are giving up the right to see, hear and question witnesses, and to bring in their own witnesses, testify, or choose to remain silent.
However, if the child(ren) was under three years old when the court took them away from the parent(s)/guardian(s), the court can stop family reunification services. This happens if the parent(s)/guardian(s) do not participate or exhibit appropriate progress in treatment programs.
At this hearing the court decides if the child(ren) will return to the custody of their parent(s)/guardian(s). If not, the court will cancel the services so the child(ren) can receive a permanent plan. The court will set a hearing to decide a permanency plan for the child(ren).
The court can let the family reunification services continue for another six months if there is a good chance that the child(ren) will return to the custody of their parent(s)/guardian(s).
At this hearing, the court decides if the child(ren) will go back to the parent(s)/guardian(s). If not, the judge will cancel family reunification services. The court will have a hearing to decide a permanent plan for the child(ren).
If parental rights are terminated, the court’s preferred choice for a child’s permanent plan is adoption; with an alternative being legal guardianship. Another option for a permanent plan is a long-term placement, however this is the least likely choice to give the child a permanent home.
This hearing determines if progress is being made to find a permanent home for the child(ren) and if the case can be dismissed. This type of hearing can occur every six months until the case is dismissed.