Child Dependency Cases

Child Dependency proceedings are invariably traumatic and stressful for parents, children and relatives. The Juvenile court hears child dependency cases and has enormous and wide reaching powers. These powers include removing children from their home, sending children to live in foster placements or with relatives, terminating parental rights and adoption.

Early legal representation is often critical to ensure that parents and relatives understand the concerns of social workers and the court, to ensure their rights are protected and they are fully engaged in the child dependency process. Below is a brief overview of the most important features of the process. A more in depth guide, a flow chart and a video overview can be accessed by clicking here.

How the process starts?

The process begins after the Department of Social Services (DSS) are notified, or become aware of allegations of abuse of your child. This will trigger an investigation, and an emergency response worker will make the decision about whether or not to remove your child and place him or her in protective custody.

Detention hearing

If the DSS decide to remove your child from home, a court hearing called a ‘Detention Hearing’ must be scheduled as soon as possible. It is very important that you attend this hearing. It is at this first hearing the court decides whether the child can return home or whether to make the child a “dependent” of the court. At RBE Law we will ensure you understand the allegations being made, and will start working on a strategy that gives you the best chance of having your child returned to your care. Critically at this first hearing you have the chance to admit or deny the allegations made. The judge reviews all of the evidence and decides whether it is in the best interests of the child to return home. The Judge has the power at this hearing to return your child to you, to place the child in foster care or with a relative.

Jurisdictional hearing

At this hearing you can respond to the abuse allegations being made. The Judge will make a decision about whether these allegations are found. It is incredibly important that you are properly represented at this hearing so that you can argue that the allegations should not be found and the child’s best interest are served by the child remaining in your custody.

If you are not successful at this hearing and the Judge finds the allegations are true, in all likelihood  your child will not be returned to your care and the case will move forward to a disposition hearing.

Disposition hearing

If the court rules that your child should not return home, a child dependency disposition hearing will take place 10 days later. Generally speaking at this hearing the court will implement a “proposed reunification plan”. This sets out a plan for what you need to do to get your child back into your care and the time frames for this.

Once the reunification plan is accepted, a 6 month review date will be scheduled. At RBE Law we aim to work with you during this difficult period to help you get your child back in your care as soon as possible.

Six to twelve month review hearings

At the six month review hearing the court will assess your progress in conjunction with the reunification plan. The court will consider whether or not you have followed the reunification plan, and if you have dealt with and remedied the problems that led to your child being removed from your custody initially. If the court is satisfied it may allow the child to return to your care.

However, if the court finds that you have not made sufficient progress, it will fix a 12 month review hearing. At this hearing the court will once again review your progress in line with the reunification plan.

If the court still believes that it is not in the child’s best interest to be returned to your custody after the 12 month hearing, the court will set a permanency hearing to decide on a more permanent home for your child.

Permanency Planning Hearing and “26 Hearing”

At the permanency hearing the court’s goal is to determine a permanent home for the child. If the court has previously determined that the child should not be returned to your custody, the court may decide that the child should remain permanently in foster care or in the care of a relative.

If the court decides to completely  terminate your parental rights, a selection and implementation hearing will then be held (called a “26 hearing). At this hearing the goal is to establish a plan that can be implemented to ensure the child has a safe and stable permanent home. The court may seek to have the child adopted or may establish a legal guardian for your child.