A dependency court case begins when a social worker files a petition with the local superior court. There are usually certain courts in each county that are designated for juvenile dependency cases. If the social worker thinks that they have enough information to file an abuse or neglect charge against the parents in order to protect the children, they’ll file a petition alleging serious physical abuse (300A), neglect (300), serious emotional abuse (300C), sexual abuse (300D), or serious physical harm abuse (300E). They can file a torture count (300I) or a J count, which it says that if one child was abused or put at risk of abuse, the other kids in the household likely will be too.
The petition asks the court to set a court date. If your children are removed from you before the court date, they have 48 hours to file a petition with the court. Once they file it, the court has 24 hours to get it on the calendar, so within 72 hours of the removal of the children, you should have a court date. That 72 hour does not include holidays or weekends.
When you show up to court, the judge will read what that petition says and if you don’t have money to hire a private attorney, they’ll assign you a court-appointed one. These attorneys usually have at least 100 cases at any time. The court will also assign an attorney to represent the children. If there is a conflict between the children themselves, there will be separate attorneys for separate children.
The first date is called a detention hearing and on that day, the court is going to see if there is enough evidence to continue to detain your children from your custody pending what’s called a jurisdiction hearing. At the detention hearing, your attorney has the right to ask for a 24-hour continuance, no questions asked, in order to prepare for a detention hearing where they should be arguing that there is no need to detain the child. At nearly all detention hearings, the court continues to detain the child because the county only has to show by a prima facie case that there is a substantial risk of harm to the children if they are returned to you.