Long Beach Dependency Lawyers
What is Dependency Court?
Dependency Court is a section of the Superior Court. This court hears cases regarding minor children who are thought to have been abused or neglected.
An abuse and neglect case begins when someone reports a concern that:
- You are inflicting abuse on your child or not taking care of your child as you should,
- Another person is abusing your child or not taking care of him or her properly and you are not protecting your child from this situation, or
- Your child is in peril of being abused or neglected by you or someone else.
Reports of child abuse or neglect are customarily made to the police or to social workers. When a child abuse and neglect report comes in, a social worker or police officer is obligated to investigate. If a police officer is the first one notified, he or she will usually hand it over to the social worker for investigation.
A social worker conducts his or her investigation by interviewing you, the child or children in question, people who know you and your family, and by examining where you live with the children. The social worker is allowed to speak to your child at school without you being present. The social worker does not require a court order to approach your child at school, as long as there is not a police officer present when the social worker talks to your child. That said, after the social worker speaks to your children at school, he or she is required to inform you that s/he interviewed your child at school.
What Happens After a Social Worker Investigates a Claim of Child Abuse and Neglect?
Once the investigation is done the social worker will do one of the following:
No Action. The social worker will do this if he finds no evidence of abuse or neglect that requires court involvement.
Offer Voluntary Services. These are services that are free of charge. The social worker will help you connect to them. The Voluntary Services are designed to help you learn how to parent your child more safely.
Petition. Allow your child to remain in your care, but also file a document with the court, called a petition, that asks the court to open a case to protect your child.
Removal. Take your child from your care and file a petition with the court, that asks them to open a case to protect your child. The social worker needs to file the petition within two court days of removing your child. The social worker will remove your child from your home if he thinks the child is in immediate danger in your care. If the social worker takes your child out of your care he can place the child with the other parent (if you are not living with them), with a relative, or in a foster home.
To prevent your child from being placed with strangers, the social worker will need to have your relatives’ information. That said, you need to take great care when speaking to social workers about what you say. Call a reputable Long Beach dependency lawyer before you say anything.
In the event that your child is removed, you also have the right to ask the social worker to set up frequent visits with your child. That way, you will be able see your child often while you wait for your court date.
The Detention Hearing
You and your Long Beach dependency lawyer will go to the first court hearing. This is commonly known as the detention hearing. If your child was removed, this hearing should be held by the end of the day after the petition was filed. The social worker will tell you when and where the detention hearing is going to take place.
Keep in mind that even though your child was taken from you, you still have the right to make educational decisions on their behalf. It is critical that you continue to participate in your child’s education and decisions regarding his or her education. The court can limit your authority to make educational decisions if you fail to respond to and participate in school meetings. You also still have your right to make healthcare decisions for your child and you have the right to be present at their doctors appointments.
Reunification in Dependency Cases
With a few exceptions, the court is required to offer you services to help you reunify with your child (get your child returned to your care). The social worker assigned to your case will plan out with the reunification services, and they need to have your input in the process. The court will order you to go through all the planned reunification services. You should begin participating in those services right away because you have to complete all of the reunification services to get your children back and you have a limited amount of time to get it done.
How Long Does it Take to Finish Reunification Services?
Most of the time, you will be given a year to complete your requirements if you continue making progress. That said, if your child is younger than three years old, you will have only six months to demonstrate that you are committed to finishing up everything.
After the court orders you to participate in reunification services, your next court hearing is not for 6 months. During those six months, you need to be participating in the reunification services offered to you. If you make progress, your child could be returned to you prior to the next court date. It is important to keep in touch with your attorney and social worker to keep them up to date on your progress toward your reunification goals. If you believe that it is safe for your child to be returned to your home, your Long Beach dependency lawyer can file an order asking the court to return your child.
What If I Don’t Do the Voluntary Services?
If you don’t participate in the services in your reunification plan, the court can terminate them. If that happens, it means that the goal for your case has changed from reuniting you with your child to finding a permanent home for your child. In other words, you would lose your children.
What Happens In Court While My Child is in The System?
During the time your children are in the system (whether they are living with you or with someone else), the court will hold a hearing every six months. The hearings are dependency status review hearings, which in various courts can also be referred to as status review hearings, periodic review hearings, or DSR hearings.
The reason for each review is for the court to decide if you have been really working with your case plan and if it is safe for your child to be returned to your care or, in a case where your child is living with you, if your case can be dismissed.
At the six month review the court can do one of the following things:
- return your child/ren to your home if they were removed from your care,
- order that your child/ren stay out of your care but allow you another six months of services, or
- order that your child stay out of your care and terminate the reunification services.
When a court terminates reunification services, your reunification clock has run out and the court must make a permanent plan for your child. This is the plan of who will be taking custody of your child and raising them from here on out live.
What if My Reunification Services are Terminated?
There are a number of things you should know if the court does not return your child and terminates your reunification services.
- First, you will be able to continue to visit with your child even if your reunification services have been stopped, unless the court finds that even your visits are harmful to the child.
- Second, the court is required to select a permanent plan for your child. This plan can entail adoption, legal guardianship, or continued placement in foster care.
- Adoption is always the first option. When the adoption is final, the court terminates your parental rights. That means you are no longer your child’s parent by law and have no legal rights or responsibilities to him or her.
- Legal guardianship is the second way to go: A legal guardian has all the legal rights and responsibilities that a biological parent would have as far as caring for a child. In this scenario, your rights as a parent are not terminated but are on hold during the guardianship. Customarily, the court will dismiss your case from the system, but in some situations, the court may continue to monitor your child. It may also allow you the right to visit your child under certain rules; and
- A long-term planned permanent living arrangement is the third option: Long-term planned permanent living arrangement means that your child would continue to live with foster parents. The foster parents can be related to the child, or not. The case remains in the system and the court will hold a review hearing every six months.
If you are dealing with a dependency case or have had social workers or courts threaten to take your children from you, then you need an experienced Long Beach dependency lawyer right away to fight for your parenting rights.