In California, if the state learns that a child is being neglected or abused,
the child can be removed from the parent’s home. When a child is
taken away from their parents because of neglect and/or abuse, it is referred to as a
juvenile dependency case, which is
When child welfare agencies remove a child from their home, the child’s
life is changed, sometimes forever. Generally, a child abuse or neglect
case beings when a relative, a mandated reporter, such as a doctor or
teacher, or a concerned neighbor contacts the authorities and makes a report.
A juvenile dependency case often starts when a concerned citizen reports
that they suspect:
- A parent is not taking proper care of their child,
- A parent is abusing their child,
- The parent is allowing someone else, such as a romantic partner or a friend
to abuse their child and the parent is not protecting their child, or
- The child is in danger of being abused by their parent or of not being
properly taken care of.
Usually, a child’s family member, a neighbor, or a mandated reporter
will place a call into the police or to social workers, reporting that
the child is a suspected victim of neglect or abuse. Whenever such a report
is made to the authorities, they are required to launch an investigation.
If the reporter called the police first, typically what happens is the
police officer contacts a social worker and has that person continue the
Once a case becomes the responsibility of a social worker, he or she will
contact the parent. The social worker will ask the parent questions, they
will ask the child questions, they will talk to the family, and they will
come and inspect the place where the parent and child lives.
Often, a social worker will go to a child’s school and talk to the
child there when the parent is not present for the conversation. Under
California law, social workers are not required to have a court order
to interview a child, as long as the police are not there for the conversation.
Once a social worker completes an interview with a child at their school,
the social worker is required by law to notify the parent that the child
was interviewed at school.
After the Social Worker’s Investigation
After the social worker has completed their investigation, one of the following
will occur: 1) the social worker won’t do anything (because they
cannot find evidence of abuse or neglect), 2) the social worker offers
the parent free services that will help them become a better parent, 3)
the social worker will leave the child with the parents and file a petition
asking the court to protect the child, or 4) the court removes the child
from the parent’s
If a social worker decides to remove a child from the family’s home
because the social worker believes the child is being neglected and/or
abused, the social worker files a petition with the court within two court
days of taking the child away from their family.
If a social worker feels that a child is in danger, he or she will take
the child away from his or her parents in order to protect them. What
happens to the child at this point?
If the parents are divorced or separated, the social worker
may place the child in the care of the other parent, or the child may go to
stay with another family member, or the child may be placed in a foster home.
What do I do if my child is taken from me?
If your child is taken from you, you want to immediately give the social
worker’s information to your family members. Hopefully, your child’s
other parent or a relative can take them in so your child doesn’t
have to stay with complete strangers.
To be proactive and to prevent your child from having to go live with a
foster family, be sure to give your family’s contact information
to the social worker. Also, ask the social worker for frequent visits
with your son or daughter. If your child is not in danger and the social
worker finds it appropriate, you may see your child before you go to court.
Attending the Detention Hearing
If your child was removed from your home, your first court hearing will
be the “detention hearing.” This is an important hearing because
during this time, the judge will decide if it’s safe to return your
child to you right away. During this court hearing, the judge is going
to ask you questions about how you’re going to ensure your child is safe.
If after reviewing the evidence the judge decides not to return you child
to you, the judge will issue orders about when and where you will be allowed
to visit your child. If your child’s other parent does not attend
the hearing, the judge will ask about him or her. The judge will ask these
questions because he or she needs to know who your child’s legal
If your child was removed from your home, the first hearing is supposed
to take place within a day of the petition being filed. On the other hand,
if your child was not taken away, the detention hearing will take place
no more than 15 days of the petition being filed.
If your child was taken from you (this is commonly called
detention) the detention hearing is only the beginning. Please know that you have
rights, most importantly you have a right to an attorney.
There will be many unfamiliar things happening in court, and a lawyer from
our firm can help you understand what is happening. We can explain what
you need to do to get your child back at home where they belong, and we
can help guide you through the process.
Contact Claery & Hammond, LLPfor a free case evaluation with a Los Angeles
child custody lawyer.