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Message #580 Juvenile court dependency hearings

mp3 #580 Juvenile Court Child Dependency Cases (mp3 file)

A child dependency action at juvenile court may be brought on behalf of a child who is in danger of being neglected, abused, improperly cared for, abandoned, or dangerous to others due to physical or mental problems. It is not a criminal case. The case is begun by the Department of Public Social Services which files a petition at juvenile court.

The petition seeks court intervention for the welfare of the child. The petition states why the child needs the intervention of the court. The court tries to keep the family together, instead of separating the family.

This message will briefly describe six separate hearings which may be held during a child dependency case at juvenile court:

1. Detention hearing

2. Jurisdictional hearing

3. Disposition hearing

4. Semi annual review

5. New hearing to change a court order

6. Selection and implementation hearing

1. If the child is removed from the parents. The first court appearance is a "detention hearing." At this time, the court must decide whether or not the child is to stay out of the home or go home while waiting for the jurisdiction hearing.

The time limits for the court are short. The detention hearing is held no more than 3 days after the child is removed from the parents, excluding a holiday or weekend.

2. A jurisdictional hearing is held no more than 30 days after the department of public social services files the petition, unless the child is placed out of the home. If the child is placed out of the home by the court, the jurisdictional hearing must be held within 15 days, excluding a holiday or weekend. At a jurisdictional hearing, the department of public social services must prove that the child is neglected, lacking proper care, or abused. The parents involved in a dependency action have the right to get their own lawyer, or to be provided with a lawyer if they cannot afford one, and, they may request a lawyer at any time during the hearings. The child also has a right to a lawyer. Cases vary so widely that need for a lawyer is best dealt with on an individual case basis.

If the court finds no neglect, improper care or abuse, the court dismisses the case.

3. If the court does find that there is neglect, improper care, or abuse, the court then has a disposition hearing to decide who should take care of the child. Some children are returned to their homes, others to relatives, and still others to foster homes. The judge always orders the department of public social services to supervise the care of the child in his own home or elsewhere. The judge may also order the parents and/or the child to get counseling as a condition of the child staying or returning home. The social worker's social study is considered by the court, as is any other helpful information. The child's parents may also present evidence as to where they wish their child to live.

4. If the court makes the child a dependent of the court, the case is heard again within 6 months at what is called a Semi-Annual Review.

5. During the months before the scheduled Semi-Annual Review, a child's family may request another hearing to show a change of circumstances. For example, in some cases the child is placed in a foster home. If the child's parents or the child believe circumstances have changed, which would allow the child to be returned to the parents' home, the court can hear the matter before the 6 months is up, to change the court's former order. If a child is removed from his own home, a plan is instituted to change the situation which caused the court to remove the child, so that the family can be reunited. A part of the plan is for the parents to participate in the important events in the child's life through visitation arrangements, financial support, and medical care. The court returns the child to his own home as soon as his family is able to meet his needs, and/or there is no longer any threat of abuse.

6. Selection and Implementation Hearing. At the 12 or 18 months review, if the parents have failed to make sufficient progress toward the eventual return of the child, the judge may set a Selection and Implementation Hearing. This hearing occurs 120 days later and is often called a "26 Hearing" because it is pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code Section 366.26. At that hearing the judge may decide that return of the minor to the parents is detrimental to the minor's welfare and one of three things will happen:

1. Adoption

2. Legal guardianship

3. Long term foster care

During the time period between the review and the selection and implementation hearing DPSS will no longer provide services to the family.

This is a very brief description of a dependency action. Each case which comes before the court is different, calling for a study of the child's need for the court to become involved in his or her care. The court wants the child to be with his own family if at all possible.

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