FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is "minor's counsel"?
A court appointed attorney who represents children in the foster care system, holding a dual role. Attorneys must have the education and legal background to ensure the rights to safety, protection and family are upheld in the courtroom and throughout the community, while being the court appointed guardian ad litem, fighting for what is in the child’s best interest at all times. They are required to be licensed to practice law by the State Bar of California, and certified in dependency law. These highly trained professionals are tireless advocates for this vulnerable population, guiding them through the complicated and overwhelming foster care system and the accompanying dependency court process. Appearing at every hearing, often with their young client beside them in the courtroom, the child’s attorney is the only person in the court speaking exclusively on behalf of the child, ensuring their needs are met.
What is a CASA?
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers advocate for a child’s best interest by providing information to judges and parents’ and children’s counsel about the child’s needs and well-being. CASA volunteers get involved because they want to give their personal time and resources to strengthen their community and ensure that every foster child is safe, has a permanent, loving home and the opportunity to thrive.
How does a Juvenile Dependency case begin?
A Juvenile Dependency case often begins when child abuse or neglect is reported to Child Protective Services (CPS). The agency then initiates an investigation into the allegations, and if the social worker obtains evidence that the child’s safety requires court protection, the social worker will file a petition with the Juvenile Court asking the court to declare the child a dependent (of the court). The petition will state the facts, upon which the social worker relies, for the basis of his/her belief that the child needs protection.
Once a petition is filed, what types of hearings will Juvenile Court conduct? What is reviewed?
The Detention Hearing
The initial hearing in the juvenile dependency process is also called the Detention Hearing. At this hearing, the social worker presents a report that provides evidence and explains how and why the family came to the attention of the Agency. Next, the judge reviews the evidence and decides whether the child’s safety requires that she/he be removed from the home until further hearings take place (regarding the alleged abuse or neglect) and whether the child should be detained in the temporary custody of the Agency until those hearings occur.
The Jurisdictional Hearing:
Both the child’s parents and the child have a right to a trial on the allegations of abuse or neglect. At this hearing, the court must decide whether the allegations of abuse or neglect are in fact true. If the court finds the allegations true, it sustains the petition. This hearing must be held within 15 days of the court’s order which first detained the child.
The Disposition Hearing:
Once the court sustains the petition (finding that the child was abused or neglected), the court must then decide whether the child is safe remaining with a parent or whether it is in the child’s best interest to be removed from the parents’ care. If the court decides that the child should be removed from the parents, the court then must consider who should care for the child.
A relative is the first placement option that must be considered by the court
If there is not an appropriate relative available, the child is usually placed in a foster home
If the child is removed from parents, the court will designate appropriate visitation (in the best interest of the child). In most cases, parents are ordered into a reunification plan and are provided services so that the child will be able to return home. Reunification plans and services are designated to remedy the problems that led to a child’s removal from the home.
The Six-Month Review Hearing:
The juvenile court will review how the child is doing in his/her placement in addition to the parents’ progress with their reunification plan. At this hearing, the court may decide that it is appropriate for the child to return home to a parent, or that the child should remain with a relative or in foster care.
Depending on the child’s age at the time of entering the dependency system, there may be a 12-month review set to re-evaluate similar issues.
The Permanency Hearing:
This hearing must be held within 12 months of the date that the child entered foster care. The court must decide if the child can be safely returned home or if reunification efforts should be continued or terminated. If reunification services are terminated, this does not terminate parental rights. An order terminating services ends the Agency’s responsibility for paying for and arranging the reunification services. Parents may choose to remain in services of their own accord and can maintain visitation with their child(ren).
The Selection and Implementation Hearing (.26 hearing):
If the court chooses to terminate parental reunification services, this hearing must be held within 120 days of that judgment. Here, the court will decide whether to terminate parental rights and order that the child be placed for adoption. Or, if adoption is not a viable option for the child, the court can appoint a legal guardian or choose another planned, permanent living arrangement (APPLA).
Post-Permanency Review Hearings
These hearings update the court on the child’s needs and progress, and they occur every six months until the child is either adopted, a guardianship is established or the case concludes due to the age of the child.
What is the timeline for the dependency process?
Once a child is removed from the home and taken into protective custody, CPS has 48 hours to file a petition with the juvenile court. Consult with a lawyer NOW. The Initial/Detention Hearing must occur as soon as possible once the petition has been filed.
If the court orders that the child should not immediately return home and is instead to be detained out of home, the court will set the Jurisdiction Hearing to be held within 15 days.
A Disposition Hearing is to be held within 10 days of the Jurisdiction Hearing (but often they are held on the same day).
The Six-Month Review Hearing will be held within 6 months of the date of the Disposition Hearing.
Within 12 months of the date the child entered foster care, the court will conduct a Permanency Hearing. If the child is not returned to the parent(s) at this hearing and reunification services are terminated, the Selection and Implementation Hearing (.26 Hearing) must be held within 120 days.
Post Permanency Review Hearings are then held every 6 months.
Are there factors that can shorten this dependency timeline?
Yes. Reunification services may not be provided to parents in special cases. In addition, if the child is under the age of three at the time of detention, the timeline is abbreviated.
How do different court systems affect visitation rights?
Protecting children’s ties to their family is critical to reducing trauma when separated from their family unit due to court involvement. In these situations, parents have constitutionally protected rights over the care and custody of their children. Children also have rights to their family and their overall safety and wellbeing. However, when a court system becomes involved with a family, those right may be restricted. The type of court system involved, Juvenile Dependency Court, Probate Court, or Family Court, will also affect the protections afforded to the family, including visitation rights to the child.
Juvenile Dependency Court
Juvenile Dependency Court is tasked with the protection of abused and neglected children. This court is required to consider and issue visitation orders, during the life of a case, to protect the bond between the child and their parents, siblings, grandparents, and other individuals important to the child, unless contact would be unsafe for that child. Child Welfare Services is responsible for overseeing and managing the court’s visitation orders. Request for or to change court orders can be requested under Welfare and Institutions Code Section 388 (a) and (b). Judicial Council Form JV-180 shall be used for this purpose.
When the court closes a case, its ability to extend visitation orders depends on how jurisdiction is terminated - legal guardianship, custody to a parent or parents, or adoption finalization. Juvenile Dependency Court may modify visitation orders in a legal guardianship but visitation orders issued to a parent when custody is granted to the other parent, can only be modified in Family Court.
For more information: http://www.sdcourt.ca.gov/pls/portal/url/page/sdcourt/juvenile3
Probate Court appoints legal guardians to care for children who have been orphaned or whose parents cannot care for them on a long term or permanent basis. This court often orders parental visitation at the discretion of the legal guardians it appoints to care for the child. Parents may request the court order a specific visitation schedule. Probate Court may modify its visitation orders as well as the legal guardianship in the future.
For more information: http://www.sdcourt.ca.gov/pls/portal/url/page/sdcourt/probate2
Family court protects the rights of parents to the care and custody of their children. Family court may issue custody orders and/or visitation orders to allow each parent to maintain a relationship with their child. In very limited circumstances, grandparents and siblings may be afforded visitation rights. Family court may modify its orders in the future.
For more information: http://www.sdcourt.ca.gov/pls/portal/url/page/sdcourt/familyandchildren2
Multiple Court Involvement
Child custody and visitation may be impacted by different court systems. The Superior Court, County of San Diego has developed a local protocol directing Juvenile, Probate and Family Courts on how to handle multiple court system involvement.
For more information: Protocol for Guardianships