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Juvenile Dependency Cases

This is meant to provide you with an overall, or birds eye view of a DCFS matter and dealing with social services in regards to your children. McNamara & McNamara is here to help you though each or any stage of this process.  Just do not wait until it is too late, and the end result for these cases can result in adoption of your child by another family.   

The beginning starts with a report and follows with an investigation of abuse by DCFS: 

If the DCFS (The Department of Children and Family Services) social worker has reasonable cause to believe that the child is in immediate danger, and is within the description of any subsection of Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) Section 300, they may detain the child. 

A report can come from many different locations.  It can being by a 911 call for domestic violence and the police come out to investigate.  Then the police report to DCFS.  Also in the community you have mandated reporters, this means by law they are required to report abuse.  This can come from school personal including teachers, nurses etc.; doctors, therapists, clergy and others.   

Areas of concern or abuse, under section 300 WIC: 

In any case it starts with a report and it gets investigated by DCFS.  They are concerned with areas of abuse as described in Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) Section 300.  This area of the law that provide the basis for the court to obtain jurisdiction are:

  • Intentional Physical Abuse (this does not include spanking to the buttocks, no marks or bruising);
  • Neglect (that may result in serious physical harm or illness due to failure to supervise);
  • Serious Emotional damage (resulting in severe anxiety, depression and aggression to oneself or others);
  • Sexual abuse (as defined in Penal Code Section 11165.1);
  • Severe physical and sexual abuse (the child is under the age of 5);
  • Causing the Death of another child;
  • Abandonment (the minor is left without provision for support, often the parent is incarcerated or the parents whereabouts are unknown)
  • Freed minor not adopted;
  • Cruelty to a minor (must be severe);
  • Abuse of a minor's sibling.

Time for investigation, and possible with the Juvenile Court: 

Generally speaking DCFS investigates the reports of child abuse, neglect or abandonment by interviewing the child, parents, and witnesses, and reviewing police and medical reports. If the minor is detained, DCFS must file a petition within 48 hours of detention. The petition contains the factual allegations against the parent(s), and gives the specific reasons and recommendations for detention.

The need for Expert help early in the process: 

Early involvement by an expert can prevent filings with the Juvenile Court but you would need that help early on and it depends on the severity and any history the parties (parents) may have with prior juvenile court actions.  

Detention, meaning you child was taken by DCFS, means you going to court:

When the child is detained, he or she is immediately placed in the protective custody of the non-offending parent, a relative, or a licensed foster home or a group home. The offending parent must be notified (usually within five hours) and provided with a telephone number of how to contact the child. However, if contact is deemed to be detrimental, DCFS can deny telephone contact.

A Petition is filed with allegations of abuse contained therein: 

The parents are parties to any such action.  Stepparents may not be parties to an action.  Again, the stage of a case is now set and expert help is needed for these proceedings.  To many choices and courses exist.  A parent will be provided with appointed counsel by the court at this stage.  Sometimes this will serve your purpose and sometimes you will need more attention than a public attorney can provide.  Fell free to consult us at McNamara & McNamara.  The Juvenile court also has the authority to exclude the offending parent from the family home, to issue family law orders regarding child custody, to issue arrest warrants for the parents, to issue protective custody warrants for minors.

The parent can be arrested if convicted of "willful failure to provide for their child, abandonment or endangering the child's life or health or using force that causes the child's death." These criminal cases against the parent are not heard by Juvenile court, there fore, there may be simultaneous cases being heard in criminal court and Juvenile court. If a child becomes a dependent, other pending cases, such as from family law or guardianship cases, are stayed. The Dependency Court will determine all custody and visitation orders until the Dependency case is terminated. The final custody and visitation orders remain in effect unless a modification is sought in Family Court.

Procedure of your first hearing: 

The first hearing is the detention and arraignment hearing, which must take place within 72 hours of detention. If the minor is not detained but a petition is filed by DCFS, the hearing takes place as soon as possible. At this hearing, attorneys are assigned to the child and to the parent if they are not represented. If the child is in foster care, they are brought to the court for the hearing, and remain in a private area called "shelter care." Here, the attorney can interview the child and family visits can take place if agreed by the court.

At the hearing, the parent has the opportunity to argue for the return of the child or for where the child should temporary be placed, such as with a relative. If it cannot be proven at this hearing that the child is within the description of WIC Section 300, and there is no showing of a substantial risk of harm to the child, the child can be released to the parent. Also at this hearing, the parent will either admit or deny the allegations in the petition (similar to criminal court arraignment in which the suspect pleads guilty or not guilty).

PRC, hearing in court: 

Pre- Resolution Conference hearing (PRC) is a hearing whereby the CSW provides an investigation report to the court and the parties attempt to resolve the case.  It is important to note that the court uses the investigation report as if it was testimony before the court.  What does this mean, it means the CSW will interview the parties and relevant witnesses and include the supposed statements of these interview in summary to the court.

I have over the years read very well investigated cases and reports, and far too many reports, which contained numerous inaccuracies of the facts.  Generally, lending favor to the court-taking jurisdiction over the minor and not in a parents favor. Thus the hearing is the Pre-Trial Resolution Conference where the parties (the parents, and their counsel, the minor's counsel and the DCFS counsel) mediate and try to informally settle the case. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, a trial is set.

Trial, or adjudication of the allegations in court: 

At trial, the burden is on DCFS to prove that the child is within the description of WIC Sections 300. Written and testimonial evidence is presented.  Again, the written evidence is contained in the reports prepared by DCFS.  To correct inaccuracies and misstatements you need to subpoena the parties to court who made statements in the report.   Then you need to cross-examine the persons who made these statements.  You can also call you own experts and witness in your behalf.  

Again, a very important process and stage here on many levels.  If your being well represented by your court appointed counsel then you’re in good hands.  However, if your not you need expert help now.  

The end of the adjudication or trial on the allegations results in the judge declaring dependency or dismissing the case.  If the judge dismisses, end of story.  If the judge declares dependency under some basis outlined in WIC section 300.  Then the next stage of the case is the disposition.  

Disposition hearing, in court: 

At the Disposition hearing, sometime done at the same time as the trial, the court makes the finding that the child is a dependent of the Juvenile court by clear and convincing evidence that there is s substantial risk of abuse or neglect. But the issues and determinations at disposition involve whether the child should be released to the parents or remain in detention. Also, what should the court order to re-unify this family?

A case plan also referred to as "family reunification" is developed and implemented by the court. The plan recommends a visitation schedule between siblings (if they are separated) and between the parent and the child, and also states what services and programs DCFS must be provide for the parents (counseling, anger management, drug counseling, etc).

However, if the abuse is severe enough or other more complicated issues exist in a given case.  The social worker or DCFS can ask the court to NOT allow you the chance to reunify with your family.  Meaning, no case plan and thus move forward to some permanent plan which can include adoption, legal guardianship, or long term foster care.  This can permanently sever any and all legal ties to your children.  Again, another stage whereby legal expertise is necessary.  Fell free to consult us at McNamara & McNamara.

Relative Placement should be addressed in these early stages:

With effective assistance and legal counsel one of the concerns of any attorney should be to get your children to a family member, if they are to be detained from the parents.  This assures several things:  (1) your children, should you fail, will be with a relative;  (2) often, not always, it means easy access to your children and information about your children; and (3) the comfort for your children being placed with someone they know rather than foster care.  

For so many reasons I cannot set forth herein the goal at the outset should be to find an appropriate relative to come forward to assist in caring for your children.  I have over the years observed many things happen to your children in foster care.  Call us now at McNamara & McNamara so we can help you, and help your children.    

Reunification process or plan and your compliance of the orders of the court: 

Many people do not understand this becomes a race of the time clock.  Essentially this means the court sets up dates about six months apart.  They check your progress on the plan.  If you fail to take this time and reach those goals, you may loose your children.  Currently, the laws are set up to do what is called concurrent planning.  That means essentially, the DCFS is planning for your failure.  Meaning they are planning to have your child adopted by a particular family.  

The family reunification period can proceed for 6, 12, or 18 months, depending on several factors. Review Hearings are held at 6th, 12th and 18th months after detention to determine if the problems and circumstances still exist that caused the child to be detained. If the court determines that there is still a substantial risk of harm to the child, for instance if the parent is not in compliance with the court orders, then the child will not be returned home.

At the 12th month hearing, the court can terminate family reunification services or give the parent an additional six months to comply with the court ordered plan and continue to provide services.

The 18th month hearing must be held from the time of initial detainment. At the 18th month hearing, the court will terminate services if the child is not returned home and order a permanent plan for the child. The permanent plan means a hearing will take place to determine whether adoption, guardianship or long-term foster care is in the best interest of the minor.

Permenent Planning

If adoption is chosen at the next hearing, the parent’s rights can be terminated. If guardianship is ordered, the court will appoint a guardian. If a permanent plan is ordered and adoption is not ordered or finalized, and the case is not closed, a review of the case can continue every six months until the child is 18 years old or graduates from high school.

Again, the best advice I can give you is to consult with an expert in this area, we at McNamara & McNamara are her to help and do not wait until it is too late.


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