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 very serious.
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 investigation.
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 custody.
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 parents are.
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 removal or 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.