Juvenile Dependency Court in Bay Area, CA
The Juvenile Dependency System is encompassed in the legal area of juvenile law and has two goals:
- to protect the children in your family
- to preserve and strengthen the family
Often, the only way you will know if you are the focus of a CPS/DFS (Child Protective Services/Department of Family Services) investigation is through an unannounced visit by a social worker, a phone call from a social worker, a social worker leaving a card on your door asking you to give them a call, or a letter in your mailbox. You must take whatever measures appropriate to contact an attorney IMMEDIATELY. The very first steps that you take in dealing with social services is CRITICAL.
If the social worker (CPS/DFS), after his or her initial investigation, decides to file a petition in the name of your children for reasons of parental neglect, etc. you will be notified of the court date. You have the right to have a copy of the petition that they file with the court before the hearing. Time and time again, parents appear in court with no knowledge of the allegations or their specifics. You should have all that information before you appear in court.
How Does A Dependency Court Case Begin in CA?
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.
Juvenile Dependency Court and Related Proceedings
Juvenile dependency court is where parents may end up when abuse or neglect is reported to either the police or to Child Protective Services (CPS). If CPS concludes that there is enough evidence of this abuse or neglect, the child or children in question may be removed from the home, either temporarily or permanently, after a series of hearings.
Court-Ordered Reunification Services
If you have been given the chance to have your children returned to you, the court will order you to accept and complete certain services. These services will be suggested by a social worker and your Walnut Creek juvenile dependency attorney can negotiate with them on your behalf. Services may include parenting classes, drug or alcohol abuse treatment (and testing), or mental health services. You may also be asked to look for employment or to obtain further education.
What Types of Behavior Could Result in A Juvenile Dependency Case?
Adults have a constitutional right to parent their children in any manner that they see fit, including discipline. However, there are legal limits. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, and severe emotional abuse are all grounds for a CPS investigation and a juvenile dependency case.
The following are common examples of abuse and neglect:
- Beating a child, causing injury that requires hospitalization.
- Failing to call the police after your children tell you that they are being sexually abused by an adult and continuing to expose the children to that adult.
- Failing to send a child to school regularly or failing keep the house stocked with food.
- Regularly leaving a young child home alone.
- Using, manufacturing, or selling drugs in the home.
If your children are taken into protective custody by CPS/DFS, the parent must be informed by the most efficient means available that the child is in custody, the nature of the process, and how a parent can regain custody. Usually, a parent knows only one thing: their child has been taken and other information is being kept from them. Often, the social worker is “unavailable” or vague. Other times, the social worker will ask you to come in for an interview. It is critical to meet with the social worker WITH AN ATTORNEY. It is very risky to your position as a parent to meet with the social worker alone, without representation.
BY LAW, A SOCIAL WORKER FROM CPS/DFS MUST EITHER RELEASE YOUR CHILD OR FILE A PETITION WITHIN 48 HOURS
You could risk losing custody of your children at the detention hearing or even before the court hearing. It is unwise to appear before a judge without an adequate legal representation. Juvenile Dependency is a unique area of the law and you will need an attorney who works SPECIFICALLY in juvenile law/juvenile dependency that is experienced to best advocate for you.
The Law Offices of Johnson & Johnson is dedicated to helping parents receive a favorable outcome to their juvenile dependency court case. Contact our office today at (925) 900-5330.