Generally speaking Child Protective Services (CPS) comes into families' lives when they receive a report from a reporter (usually a mandated reporter) who has expressed concern for a child's safety. This could be from school officials, police officers, or medical professionals that have come in contact with the family. As mandated reporters these indivduals amoung others are mandated by the State of California to report all suspected child abuse or neglect.
Once the matter is referred to CPS and emergency response social worker will contact the family to determine if CPS intervention is needed and what level of intervention is needed. Many families make the mistake of not hiring an attorney at this critical stage. At this point there has been no court filing, however CPS is making a determination as to whether the facts supported by the reporter are true and whether the risk if any can be ameliorated informally, and whether they will file a court case to bring the minor within the Juvenile Court. Often the emergency response social worker will try to resolve the percieved risk of harm to the child through informal means by developing an "informal services" case plan. This plan may include drug testing, counseling services, parenting classes and safety plans where the parent agrees to make or refrain from certain actions (i.e. do not allow abuser into home or provide clean drug test samples).
If the parent fails the informal services or the emergency response worker deems that court intervention is necessary the worker files a petitoin alleging that the child is described under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300. There are different subsections of Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 that can be the basis of a petition: a. non accidental harm (physical abuse), b. failure to protect c. serious emotional harm, d. sexual abuse, e. severe physical abuse of young child, f. causing dealth of another child, g. child left without provision for support, h. child freed for adoption, i. acts of cruelty, and, j. abuse or neglect of sibling.
CPS will notice any parents that can be reached and hold an initial hearing, formally referred to as a detention hearing. Usually the child is placed into protective custody before the initial hearing. The purpose of this hearing is to make preliminary findings as to a prima facia showing has been that the allegations in the petition are true,whether continuance in the home is contrary to the welfare of the child, and to determine custody, visitation and other issues pending a full investigation and the Jurisdiction Hearing.
Aproximately three weeks after the initial hearing a jurisdiction hearing is held. The jurisdiction hearing determines if the allegations in the petition are true. The parent has a right to a full evidentiary hearing, which includes the right to a trial, call witnesses, cross examine the social worker that prepared the report, introduce documents and present witnesses amoung others.
Following the jurisdiction hearing is the disposition hearing where the court after finding some or all of the allegations true determines what should occur to protect the child. In Sacramento County the disposition hearing is held immediately after the jurisdiction heairng in most circumstances. At the disposition hearing the court makes determinations as to whether the child can be returned to a parent, whether parents should be able to reunify through completing services (classes, counseling, substance abuse testing, etc.), or whether the court should immediately move to a permanent plan of adoption, guardianship or long term foster care.
The court also assesses relatives at the disposition hearing to determine if there are any relatives that can provide a safe home for the child that can provide permandency or care pending reunification. After the disposition hearing, relatives generally lose their preference as the overriding principal following disposition is to provide a permanent home pending reunification if possible.
If the child is not returned to either parent, the court will conduct review hearings to determine if the minor can be returned, if additional services are warrented, or whether to move to a permanent plan of adoption. Subject to certain exceptions, generally the period of reunification is limited to six months for children under three at the time of detention and twelve months for children older than three at the time of removal.
If the court is unable to return the child to a parent the court conducts a seleciton and implementation hearing to determine the permanent plan. The permanent plan the court will look to first is termination of parental rights and freeing the child for adoption. If the child is not adoptable or certain exceptions exist the court will next look to a plan of guardianship. Only if the adoption and guardianship are not feasible will the court move to a plan of long term foster care.
A lot is at stake in a CPS/Juvenile Dependency Case and thus effective representation is paramont. If you or a loved one has become involved with CPS or the Juvenile Dependency Court System call Stirling Law at (916) 851-5909.
Child Protective Services (CPS) / Juvenile Dependency