Juvenile Dependency Court & CPS Defense

Juvenile dependency court handles legal matters related to the care and welfare of children when there is an allegation that a child’s parent(s) or legal guardian(s) is neglecting or abusing his or her child, and where there is no other legal parent or legal guardian who is legally obligated to care for the minor child.

For example, if a child’s mother is accused of neglecting her child, and the child’s legal father is unknown or unavailable (i.e. the child’s legal father is in prison, deceased, unknown, mentally incapacitated, etc.), then the juvenile dependency court may take physical custody of the mother’s minor child until the court is satisfied, if ever, that returning the child to mother will not likely result in further neglect or abuse of the child.

Juvenile dependency court judges have the power to issue court orders designed to protect, as well as to provide placement and care for, a minor child, when the child’s parent(s) or legal guardian(s), are abusive and/or neglectful to their minor child, and/or when the parent, or parents, are incapable of caring for their child.

Juvenile Dependency Definitions: In juvenile dependency court, the term minor child means a person under the age of eighteen. The term child abuse includes child molestation, unreasonable corporal punishment, and/or severe psychological and/or verbal abuse. The term child neglect includes failure to protect and/or provide for a child. The term incapable means that the parent is either mentally and/or physically incapable of caring for a child, or voluntarily or involuntarily absent from the child’s life.

JD Process: Juvenile dependency cases, or “JD,” cases, usually begin when Child Protection Services (CPS) files a petition for removal of the child from the custody or his or her parent or parents.

The petition will allege that the removal is necessary because the child’s parent, or parents, is abusive, neglectful, or incapable of caring for the child and that there is no immediately available safe alternative, such as a non-abusive parent, stepparent, guardian, or close family member.

Juvenile Dependency Court

Detention Hearings: The first hearing in juvenile dependency court is called the detention hearing. If CPS removes a child from his or her parent’s or parents’ physical custody then CPS must file the petition for removal in the juvenile dependency court within two days of removing the child.

The detention hearing will be heard the same business day as the filing of the petition for removal. If the child was not removed from his or her parent’s or parents’ physical custody the detention hearing must be held within fifteen days of the filing of the petition for removal.

At the detention hearing the judge will decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence of child abuse and/or child neglect on the face of the petition to justify removal of the child. If the juvenile dependency court judge finds sufficient evidence to justify removal of the child he or she will set a jurisdiction hearing and issue temporary child custody and/or child visitation orders, including child protection and/or child placement orders.

Note: If the juvenile dependency court judge finds sufficient evidence of child abuse and/or child neglect at the detention hearing the court may nevertheless grant physical custody to the offending parent(s) or guardian(s), depending on the nature of the allegations and the safety requirements of the child. Other options the judge may choose include granting temporary physical custody of the child to a safe close family member of the child, a foster family, or the county social worker and/or foster parent.

Jurisdiction Hearing: At the jurisdiction hearing the juvenile dependency court judge will conduct a more in depth review of the allegations, including a review of the parent's or parents' responsive evidence, if any.

At the jurisdiction hearing a parent has a right to remain silent, a right to testify, a right to present favorable evidence, a right to be represented by a lawyer (even if he or she cannot afford a lawyer), and a right to cross-examine adverse witnesses, including CPS workers. If the judge believes the allegations are true at the conclusion of the jurisdiction hearing he or she will have the power to make further orders at a disposition hearing.

Disposition Hearing: At the disposition hearing the judge may issue any of the following orders: grant child custody to the parent or parents, grant child custody to a third person (foster family, close relative of the child, etc.), grant child visitation orders to the parent or parents, terminate the parent’s or parents' parental rights, issue restraining orders against a parent or parents, and/or allow reunification services, depending on the circumstances.

Note: The JD judge will not terminate the parents' parental rights at the disposition hearing; rather, if the finds that there is good cause to have that issue litigated, then the judge will set a subsequent hearing where that legal issue may be fully litigated by the parties through their respective lawyers.

Reunification Services: Reunification services attempt to reunite, physically and emotionally, a child or children, with his or her parent or parents, in a manner designed to address the particular safety needs of the child or children as well as the rehabilitation needs of the parent or parents.

Reunification progress is closely monitored by the county's social worker who will prepare a progress report for the judge to consider at the next status review hearing. Status review hearings are held in juvenile dependency court at six, twelve, and eighteen months, depending on the child’s age, the nature of the allegations, the parent’s or parents' progress, and other factors.

Family Maintenance: Another option the court has in its effort to reunite the child with his or her parent or legal guardian is called family maintenance. With family maintenance, the minor child is returned to his or her parent or legal guardian and the court closely monitors the relationship for signs that family maintenance continues to be in the best interest of the child.

Reunification v. Family Maintenance: With reunification services, the court attempts to reunify the child with his or her parent or legal guardian, but the child and his or her parent or legal guardian are not living together. With family maintenance, the family unit is maintained during the juvenile dependency court process (i.e. the parent and/or legal guardian continues to live with the minor child).

Note: With reunification services, the parent and/or legal guardian do not live with the minor child alleged to have been abused or neglected; however, visitation between the child and his or her parent or legal guardian is common during reunification services. Without visitation, there really is no way for the parent and his or her child to “reunify.” During reunification services, the minor child will live with either a designated foster parent, or a close family relative who has been assessed by the court to be able and capable to keep and care for the minor child during the reunification process.

Six Month Review: At the six month status review hearing the court will review the progress of the reunification services (or family maintenance). The judge may change its orders depending on the success, or lack thereof, of the reunification progress. If the progress report is good, the judge may reunite the child with his or her parent or parents. If the reunification progress report is poor the judge may order further reunification services with a further status review hearing at twelve months, order more restrictive visitation, terminate the reunification services, or terminate the parent’s or parents' parental rights completely (some limitations apply, see above).

Twelve Month Review: The twelve month status review hearing is held to ascertain the progress of reunification service since the six month status review hearing. If the reunification progress report is good, the juvenile dependency court may allow the child or children to return home under close supervision. If the reunification progress report is poor, the judge may either allow reunification services to continue with another status review hearing at eighteen months, or the judge may terminate the reunification services, depending on the circumstances.

Eighteen Month Review: The eighteen month status review hearing is held to ascertain the progress of reunification services since the twelve month status review hearing. If reunification is not successful by the eighteenth month status review hearing the court will set a hearing where the issue of whether or not the parent's parental rights should be terminated, and thereafter, seek a permanent plan for the child.

Note: A permanent placement plan includes adoption, guardianship, or long-term foster care, depending on the child’s needs and circumstances.

Important: When the child is very young, the court will not allow reunification services beyond twelve months. In other words, if the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) of a very young child cannot successfully reunite with his or her child, the court will not continue to give the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) more chances beyond the twelve month time period.

Child Protective Service Defense

Warning: If the alleged facts included in a CPS petition for removal is based on child abuse and/or child neglect, the allegations may constitute a criminal offense.

For example, willful child endangerment, failure to protect a child, failure to provide for a child, unreasonable corporal punishment, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and lewd acts, are all common allegations in CPS petitions that may also be charged against the parent or parents in criminal court.

If you are served with a petition for removal of a minor child from the juvenile dependency court (or CPS), which is based on criminal allegations, you should contact a family law lawyer familiar with the juvenile dependency court process, as well as criminal defense, without delay.

 

Alternatively, if you facing criminal charges that include child neglect and/or child abuse, you should contact a criminal defense attorney familiar with the juvenile dependency court process as well as the family law court process. 

CPS Defenses Include: witness bias or prejudice issues, witness memory or recall issues, witness exaggeration or lack of trustworthiness issues (criminal history, reputation of dishonesty, prior false allegations, motive to fabricate, etc.), statement contamination issues (statement adoption, statement commingling, use of leading, compound, and/or argumentative questions, witness suggestibility issues, coerced confession, etc.), evidence production problems (lack of foundation and/or relevance issues, privilege restrictions, hearsay issues, etc.), illegal evidence issues (illegal recordings, search and seizure violations, involuntary confessions, etc.), negotiated settlement before judgment, and more.

Note: When CPS determines that an allegation of child abuse and/or child neglect is substantiated (true) or inconclusive (undetermined) the offending person's name may be listed on the Child Abuse Central Index (CACI). This is true for anyone, even if the person is not a parent to the abused or neglected child and regardless of whether or not the juvenile dependency court is involved. A person has a right to object to his or her listing on the CACI at a CACI grievance hearing. For more information, see CACI Issues.

DVRO & JD Court: It is not unusual for allegation in a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) to lead to criminal allegations and/or CPS investigations, and/or child custody, child support, and/or child visitation requests in family law court or vice versa. It is important to understand that all three courts are different and handle different aspects of the same allegations. Therefore, if you are facing allegation of child abuse or child neglect from any agency or person, you should contact a lawyer who is familiar with all three courts and the legal processes associated with all three courts (i.e. family law court, juvenile dependency court, and criminal court), as well as administrative law to handle the CACI listing defense (see above.).

For example, if mother alleges that father abused their child as part of her request for domestic violence restraining orders (DVRO), then criminal prosecutors may be notified of the defendant’s/respondent’s alleged conduct for possible criminal charges, and CPS may also be notified for possible filing of a petition to have the child removed by a juvenile dependency court judge (assuming mother is also abusive or neglectful to the child).

For more information on juvenile dependency law, child custody, CPS defense, or how to petition the court for removal of your name from the Child Abuse Central Index (CACI), contact our juvenile dependency lawyers for a free consultation. Call today!

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Juvenile Dependency Court Lawyers & CPS Defense
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