Description of Juvenile Court Dependency Process
How a Case Gets to Court
The Dependency process begins when someone reports suspected child abuse or neglect or when a
minor left without support as result of parents' incarceration/institutionalization, or parent unwilling to provide care.
Basic reasons minors may
become Dependents are:
An investigation is done by the Department of Social Services and if it is believed that the child´s safety
requires court protection, a petition is filed to declare the child a dependent of the Court.
suffering, or having substantial risk of suffering, serious physical harm
inflicted nonaccidentally by parent/guardian.
suffering serious physical harm or illness, due to failure of parent to
adequately supervise/protect minor, or negligent failure of parent to provide
adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment, or inability of parent
to provide regular care due to parents' mental illness, developmental
disability, or substance abuse.
suffering serious emotional damage (severe anxiety, depression,
aggressive behavior toward self/others) as result of conduct of parent.
suffering sexual abuse by parent, or parent fails to protect minor from
left without support as result of parents' incarceration/institutionalization,
or parent unwilling to provide care.
If reunification with the family is not
possible, the Juvenile Court shall order an appropriate permanent plan for the
minor's care such as adoption.
Outline of the Juvenile Dependency Process
Below is a graphical representation of the court process:
(Click to Enlarge)
- Child is removed from the home.
- Section 300 Petition Filed
- Occurs within 48 hours of the child being taken into custody. An investigation is done by the
Department of Social Services and if it is believed that the child´s safety requires court protection, a
Section 300 petition is filed to declare the child a dependant of the Court.
- Initial/Detention Hearing
- Shortly after a child is removed from a parent, the juvenile court holds an initial court hearing, sometimes
called the detention hearing. This hearing is the court's first chance to hear about the situation that brought the
family to the attention of the Department of Social Services. At the initial hearing, the judge decides whether the
child's safety requires that she be removed from her home until legal proceedings take place on the allegations of
abuse or neglect, and whether she should stay in the temporary custody of the Department of Social Services.
This hearing happens as soon as possible after the child is removed from her home, and before the end of the
next court day after the petition is filed.
- Jurisdiction Hearing
- The child's parents have a right to a trial on the allegations of abuse or neglect charged against them.
At this hearing, the court receives evidence and determines whether the allegations of abuse or neglect are true.
If true, then the court sustains, or upholds, the petition. To do this, the court must
determine whether the child fits one of the descriptions in Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, which
authorizes the court to intervene for a child's protection. The jurisdiction hearing must be held within 15
days of the court's order detaining the child.
- Disposition Hearing
- If the juvenile court finds at the jurisdiction hearing that the child was abused or neglected, the court may
decide to make the child a dependent of the court.
- If the court declares that the child is a court dependent, the judge then decides whether the child should remain
with a parent or be legally removed from the parents' care. If the child is removed from the parents, the court
then considers who should care for the child. The court must consider relatives as the first placement alternative.
If placement with a relative is not possible, the child is usually placed in a foster home.
- In most cases, the court orders a reunification plan for the parents so that the child can return home.
A reunification plan describes the responsibilities and duties of both the social services department and the parents
to remedy the problems that caused the child's removal. At the disposition hearing the court can also make orders
about visitation, issue restraining orders, and make any other orders the judge finds are in the best interest of the child.
- Six Month Review Hearing
- The juvenile court must review the cases of all children placed in foster care at least once
every six months. At the first review hearing, information is given on the parents' progress with their
reunification plan (court ordered services) and on how the child is doing in foster care. The court may return the child to his home
or may order that the child continue to live in a foster home.
- Permanency Hearing
- A permanency hearing must be held within 12 months of the date the child entered foster care. The court
will decide if the child can safely be returned home or if efforts to reunify the child with her birth family
should end. In some cases, the court may decide to continue trying to reunify the family. It is important to
remember that terminating reunification services does not terminate parental rights. The child's parents are
often able to continue visits and other involvement with the child even if the court terminates reunification services.
- If the child cannot return home, another permanent plan will be selected at the permanency hearing. That plan could be adoption,
legal guardianship, or another planned, permanent living arrangement. The preferred choice is the most permanent home possible
for the child, so the court considers first adoption and then legal guardianship. If neither of those options is possible or
neither is in the child's best interest, then the judge orders another planned, permanent living arrangement.
- Selection and Implementation (or .26) Hearing
- Within 120 days of termination of reunification services for the child's parents, a Selection and Implementation Hearing
must be held. (This is sometimes called the
.26 hearing because the law governing it appears in Welfare and Institutions
Code section 366.26.) The county social worker prepares a report for this hearing that includes information about the child and a
preliminary assessment of whether the child is likely to be adopted, and may identify any prospective adoptive parents.
- At the selection and implementation hearing, the court can permanently terminate parental rights and order that the child be
placed for adoption. If no adoptive home has been identified, the court can order adoption as the permanent plan and order the
county social worker to find an appropriate adoptive home for the child.