In California, children’s law refers to the sub-section of the state family law that focuses on the guardianship and well-being of minors. Children’s courts handle a wide variety of topics, including dependency cases, foster care, surrogacy, and adoption. Fortunately, most parents are not familiar with how these courts operate since most investigations relating to children’s law never reach a point where the case should be decided before a court judge. But if you have a problem categorized under children’s statute, you want to speak to a lawyer before taking any other steps.
At Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer, our skilled family law lawyers will not only defend your legal rights as a parent, but they will also assist you in explaining your side of the story without incriminating yourself or otherwise risking losing the case. So, call us right away for a consultation and share your situation with us.
An Overview of Juvenile Dependency Courts and Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) Procedures
In many instances, a juvenile dependency case starts when a law enforcement officer, therapist, physician, or teacher makes a report concerning your minor's life at home with the DCFS. Once this happens, the department will schedule a meeting to discuss the report with you.
Before the meeting, you want to seek the assistance of a lawyer experienced with Child Protective Services and DCFS procedures. A highly-skilled attorney is an ideal protection you and your family could have when navigating this process.
Once the hearing is over, the DCFS will continue monitoring your family for approximately six months, the period during which the designated Child Social Service Worker may suggest that your minor be taken away from home at any time. Working hand in hand with your attorney to ensure you obey all the rules that were agreed upon can help prevent your children from being taken away from you.
If your child is detained, a hearing will have to be scheduled right away. During this court hearing, your lawyer will present arguments for the child to be reunited with their family, request placement with friends or relatives, or seek visitation rights.
The DFCS believes every minor deserves to be brought up in a family environment that’s loving and friendly. This means investigation reports of possible child neglect or abuse are taken very seriously regardless of the circumstances.
When the DCFS receives a phone call, it determines whether the report being made satisfies the need for an investigation per the state’s law. If so, it conducts a comprehensive investigation to evaluate child safety and ensure the well-being of every child in the family. Within five days, a social worker will visit the child's home to determine whether or not the minor can safely live in that home in the process of the investigations.
Filing a report does not automatically indicate that the minor will be taken away from their home. But if the child cannot stay in that home in the course of the investigation, the social worker can work with the minor's parents to create a plan for the child to temporarily live with a family friend or relative briefly while the investigation goes on.
Within the next thirty days, the social worker investigates the child's situation to establish whether a case has to be opened or not. They will:
- Interview all involved parties, including the siblings, parents, other children, and other grownups in the home, to evaluate child safety
- Conduct home visits
- Reach out to the person who made the report
- Review the child's family's history with the DCFS
If the social worker finds no credible proof of neglect or mistreatment, the child's guardians or parents may opt to engage in voluntary support services community organizations designed to assist families in maintaining stability and overcoming struggles. The investigation is then closed.
And if there's proof of neglect/mistreatment, a social worker from the DFCS will be assigned to the child. If the situation is serious, the social worker may file a case with the county dependency court. Alternatively, the DCFS might open a voluntary case without involving the court.
What to Expect In Dependency Court Proceedings
Prevailing in the case against you with the DCFS can be stressful and hectic. But there are various resources to guide you throughout the procedure. As we mentioned, if your child’s assigned social worker finds credible proof of neglect or mistreatment, they will move to bring a petition to the county dependency court on your child's behalf. At this stage, the court places the minor under its authority, making the child a dependent of the court.
Whenever the juvenile dependency court oversees a case, a child is provided with a minor's lawyer as per the state’s law. You will also be assigned a lawyer to represent and advise you at any step of the court hearing, but that is not a must. In Los Angeles, these lawyers come from a group known as LADL (Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers). These attorneys are sufficiently-trained but usually overworked. They do not have the necessary resources, including time, to devote themselves to protecting you and your family— resources a private lawyer can offer. Therefore, you want to retain your lawyer if you can afford to pay for them. Even if you start the hearing process with an attorney appointed by the court, it can never be too late to shift to a private lawyer.
Even if the child is under DCFS custody when the case is ongoing, you remain their parent before the law. Therefore, you still have parental rights. You are entitled to a court interpreter if you cannot understand English per the department’s immigration policy.
Should you be incarcerated in one way or another, always stay in constant communication with your lawyer and social worker. Inform them about the programs you have enrolled in while detained, the date of your release, and your housing location.
Juvenile Dependency Court Hearings
Every court hearing serves different purposes. The dependency court's goal is to ensure minors’ safety and assist families in creating a safe environment for their minors.
Initial Petition Hearing
A day after filing the petition by the child’s social worker, the court holds the Initial Petition Hearing. This is the first time the juvenile dependency court judge will consider your minor's case. Failure to appear in this hearing or any other subsequent ones, the judge may proceed without you, meaning you may miss the opportunity to tell your side of the story.
The DFCS social worker in charge of your child’s case and one from the dependency court will notify you of the place, time, and date the hearing will happen. The court will also require you to provide your permanent mail address so you can receive notifications of the venue, time, and date of all upcoming hearings. Various things to anticipate during this hearing include:
- Before the court hearing starts, the court will issue you a copy of the petition. The court will allow you to read through the petition and ask your lawyer questions concerning the allegations therein.
- At the hearing, the court will ask you whether the petition allegations are true or not. You may deny or admit the accusations.
- Your child's social worker will have made a report suggesting where your minor should stay. If you concur with the social worker's suggestion, the dependency court will enforce that recommendation. But if you disagree, the case will continue and proceed to the disposition hearing, where an appropriate placement will be determined. Note that disagreeing or agreeing with the suggestion does not automatically imply your minor will be placed in out-of-home care.
- If you deny the allegations in the petition, the case against you will proceed to a jurisdiction hearing. At this hearing, the judge determines if all or some of the allegations in the petition are true. And if the petition allegations are false, the judge will dismiss the case, and your child will be given back to you. But if the petition is determined to be true, the case proceeds to a disposition hearing.
Disposition Hearing and Ruling
During the disposition court hearing, the dependency court judge considers a written report by the social worker and other arguments and pieces of evidence submitted by any involved party. You have the right to be issued with the social worker's written report to read it before the hearing.
After the hearing, the court then decides if your child should return to/remain in your home/the other parent's home or be taken to a relative's home, a home that provides especially needed assistance, or foster care. At this stage, your child’s case falls under either of these two categories:
Here, your child is temporarily placed out-of-home, from all or one parent, either with a relative caregiver or in a foster home. The DFCS then works with you hand in hand to create a reunification strategy and link you with various services so you can work towards reuniting with your minor.
It is critical to keep in mind that if there is an ongoing investigation against you by the DCFS, you are entitled to speak with your lawyer, the social worker in charge of your child’s case, or a Parent Partner at any time. Navigating the process can sometimes be confusing and stressful, and these parties can be valuable resources.
Here, your child remains at home with all or one parent, but the court may mandate that you complete required services or training. The DFCS works with you to create a prevention strategy and link you with various support services.
The court will schedule review hearings every six months. These hearings give the judge a chance to review your adherence to court orders, determine if the children in placement can return home safely, and acknowledge your hard work. If you have your child at your home, the judge may decide when to close the dependency case against you.
The DFCS will send you a notice and the report for each review hearing. It's crucial always to give the DFCS and court your current email address.
You are entitled to seek a rehearing concerning any orders a commissioner or referee made. Whether a commissioner, referee, or judge presided over your child’s case, you are entitled to have the appellate court review particular orders. You have to consult your lawyer concerning this right.
If during an investigation by the dependency court or DFCS, it is established that your child must be placed in a different home as you resolve the problems that resulted in their removal, the child may be taken to:
- The other parent (if you are divorced or separated)
- A close friend of the family or relative
- A short-term residential treatment program
- With a foster family
The DFCS makes an effort to place a child in a home that best suits their needs. It tries to make sure that every child is placed in a home that will enable them to continue maintaining family ties, seeing the same physician, and attending the same school. If siblings must be taken away from their home, the DFCS will try placing them together.
All relative caregivers and foster parents have to undergo the (RFA) Resource Family Approval process to make sure they can effectively and safely take care of the minors under their supervision.
Visitation When a Child is Under Out-Of-Home Care
When a child is placed under out-of-home care, they have the right to regular phone contact with their parents, provided the contact does not prove to be detrimental to them. They will make their first call within five hours of being taken away from their parent’s home. Minors over ten years are entitled to at least two calls to their parents in the DCFS staff’s presence within an hour of being taken away from their home. And if it's safe for them, the DCFS will arrange in-person visits per the family visitation plan of the child's parents.
After the dependency court judge hears the child's case, they will decide which circumstances and how often parents can visit their child while working towards a reunification plan. The visits could be supervised based on the specific facts of the child's case.
If the child is not receiving the court-ordered visitations with their parents that they have the right to receive, they can speak to their lawyer or social worker.
The law dictates that visits between siblings not placed together in foster care should be granted. Visits between minors and their grandparents are also mandated under the law if they serve the minor's best interest.
When a teenage parent in foster care has custody of their non-dependent minor, the court may only allow visits between the teenage parent, their parent/parents, and appropriate family members. A dependent teenage parent with custody of their non-dependent minor is the only party with the legal right to make visitation decisions concerning the non-dependent minor.
De facto Parents
A person may have several reasons to prove the de facto parent status. In most cases, the grownup is already taking care of the minor daily but does not have the legal right to be their guardian. The de facto parent status permits the grownup to continue caring for the minor's emotional and physical needs.
Although, this status does not warrant visitation if the birth parent/parents recover the child's custody. It allows the de facto parent to seek visitation and custody rights and play a role in any hearing that involves the minor's placement. A children's law lawyer can offer further guidance and advice for those wondering if they should file for de facto parent status.
Adopting a Minor from Foster Care
Foster care runs on the assumption that the minor may be capable of returning under the supervision of their biological parents or other relatives after a given period. However, in most cases, this is not the case. The minors remain in the foster care system until legal age. And other times, foster parents adopt them.
Adopting a child from foster care is not as straightforward as the agency or traditional private adoptions, necessitating an experienced children's law lawyer. In most cases, the biological parent does not wish to discontinue their parental rights to the minor. The foster care agency has to seek the termination of these rights through legal means. With help from a family law lawyer, the adoptive parents in question can finalize the minor’s adoption only after the legal rights are discontinued.
Find a Family Law Attorney Near Me
Any particular legal situation can put you and your family at risk. It could be an investigation by a DCFS, detention, or the yearning to adopt a minor you have been taking care of from the foster care system. Regardless of the situation, you want to ensure the case against you is appropriately handled for your family's future. At Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer, we can provide you with the guidance and advocacy you need to protect your children and family. Our experienced attorneys know what is good for you, your child, and the entire family, and they will fight to defend your rights. Contact us today at 310-695-5212 to schedule a free consultation with one of our expert attorneys.