Juvenile Dependency Court
The Juvenile Dependency Court’s main purpose is not to punish the parents, but to help provide them with the necessary resources and information to create a better life for the child.
In many cases, the first hearing is called the “Detention Hearing”. The parents or legal guardians have the right to have a court appointed lawyer represent them. At the hearing the parents or legal guardians get a copy of the petition (allegations). The petition is a document where the social worker lists the reasons why he/she believes the child (children) has (have) been harmed. The social worker is required by law to gather information about the family. If the social worker can confirm a family member or a family friend the child may be able to live with them, if not, then the child may have to live with people he/she do not know (foster family). The decision the judge makes at this hearing are temporary until the Jurisdiction and Disposition Hearing.
Sometimes these issues can be solved outside of the court with something called, “Mediation”. The parties involved at Mediation are the parents or legal guardians, the parents’ attorney, the child’s attorney, the social worker, and a county counsel that represents the social worker. These parties come together to try and find a solution that best works for the child.
Next comes the Jurisdiction Hearing. This is the only time when the courts will here facts as to why the family is there. The judge will then decide whether the facts given are true or not. If the judge decides to believe the facts given by the social worker, then the family has four options. The family can: (1) admit to allegations; (2) submit the report to the court; (3) plead no contest to the allegations; or (4) contest the jurisdiction allegations.
At a contested jurisdiction trial, the parents have a right to testify their side of the argument. Also, the parents have the right to cross-examine witnesses. Children may also testify but depending on the age, the judge may ask the questions. The judge will then decide if there is enough evidence to support the allegations.
The next step is the Disposition Hearing. This is when the judge decides where the children can live and who may be allowed to visit them. Also, health insurance and educational issues are solved at this hearing. The judge also determines what plan the family will take. The most common plan is the “Family Reunification Plan”. This when the children go live with a family member or a close friend. The “Case Plan” is a document that tells the parents what they need to do in order reunify the family. Most of the time the parents have 12 months to show the judge they can safely parent their children.
There are three plans available if a judge determines that the parents cannot safely parent the children after the time given by the court. (1) Termination of parental rights and put up for adoption; (2) legal guardianship; and (3) permanent plan for foster care.
There are also several types of review hearings. These are done in order to make sure the court has come to the right decision.