When a child has been removed from the home for fear of their safety, there will be a serious series of court proceedings examining the situation. In today’s blog, we will go over the legal hearings expected following a child’s removal from the home, such as the detention hearing, jurisdiction hearing, and consequent reunification planning.
After My Child Has Been Removed
One of the most important things to do when a child is removed from the home due to abuse or neglect (also referred to as juvenile dependency cases) is to provide the social worker information on their family members. The placement options for the child will be:
- the other parent if they are divorced;
- a relative; or
- a foster home or shelter.
It is best to provide information about relatives if the parent wants to prevent their child from being placed with strangers.
When the child is removed, the parent can ask the social worker to set up frequent visits with the child if it is appropriate to do so. If not, the parent will not be able to see their child until their court date.
The First Hearing
Also called the detention hearing, the first hearing must happen after the day a petition is filed following the removal of a child. If the child was not removed, the first hearing must be held no later than 15 days after the petition is filed. The social worker will be present at the hearing with an attorney, and they will prepare a summary of allegations about what they believe is going on with the parent and their child. The first hearing will decide whether the child can return home right away. If they cannot, the judge will establish orders for scheduled visitation.
Note that even though the child is removed, the parent still has the right to make educational decisions on behalf of their child. The court can limit the parent’s right to make educational decisions based on their failure to respond to and participate in school meetings, though they will retain the right to make health care decisions for their child and attend doctors’ appointments.
Be aware that if the other parent is not at the hearing, the judge will ask about them, mainly to see whether there is another person who qualifies as a parent to the child.
The Jurisdiction Hearing
If a child has been removed, the parent does have the right to argue against the removal (detention) of their child. The jurisdiction hearing where a parent can argue against their child being removed will take place a few days after the first hearing. At the jurisdiction hearing, the judge will decide whether the allegations in the petition from the first hearing are true. If the judge decides the child isn’t safe, the child will become a dependent of the court and thus in the system, allowing the judge to make orders about the child’s care. However, if the judge decides that none of the allegations are true, then the case will be dismissed. and the child will be finished with the system. In the situation when a case is not dismissed, there will be a disposition hearing after the jurisdiction hearing to discuss reunification.
Disposition, called the reunification plan, is the point in the case when the judge will decide what to do to make things better for the family and the child. Discussions of the plan will include:
- decisions about where the child should live (placement);
- whether the child should live with the parent or with someone else;
- who the child should live with if not the parent;
- decisions about when, where, and how the parent can visit with their child;
- decisions about what reunification services the parent needs to make their child safe and able to live with them at home;
- decisions about what services their child needs to be safe and healthy.
With certain exceptions, the court must offer services to help the parent reunify with their child. The social worker assigned to the case will work on the reunification services with the parent’s input, and the parent does have a right to contest the reunification plan if they disagree. It is key to complete all the elements of the reunification services, because only then can the parent get their child back. Generally, a parent will have 1 year to complete their requirements. However, if the child is under 3 years old, the parent will have only 6 months to show that they are committed.
If the parent makes good progress, the child could be returned to them prior to the next court date 6 months later. If the parent does not participate in the services in the reunification plan, the court can terminate the services and seek to find a permanent home for their child that is not with the parent.
Note that during the time the child is in the system, the court will have a hearing every 6 months, which can constitute status review hearings, periodic review hearings, or DSR hearings. At 6-month review the court can:
- return the child to the parent’s care if they were removed from their care;
- order that the child remain out of their care but give the parent another 6 months of services; or
- order that the child remain out of their care and stop offering them reunification services.
Let Claery & Hammond, LLP Help
The attorney-client relationship in a juvenile dependency case is very important, as there are nuances in the law that only an attorney may know how to navigate or negotiate. After all, the attorney is your voice in court in front of the judge. So, if you are involved in an important family court case, such as child removal, it is critical to enlist the help of an attorney on your case. The team at Claery & Hammond, LLP can help you through the detention hearing and reunification plan.
Schedule a free consultation with Claery & Hammond, LLP for more information.