Navigating Your Child Abuse or Neglect Case in California

Has your child been removed from your home because someone suspects your child has been abused or neglected? If so, this article is meant for you. If you are the subject of a child abuse investigation, bear in mind that this is very serious and can have long-lasting effects.

The outcome of a juvenile dependency case can change your child’s life and it can change your life permanently. As such, you are strongly encouraged to read this article in its entirety and contact an attorney from our firm to help you to understand your legal rights and options.

How Cases Are Started

In California, child abuse and neglect cases are initiated after someone makes a report because they’re concerned the parents are abusing their child or not taking proper care of their child. A case can start when someone reports a concern that someone else, other than the parents, is abusing a child or not taking property care of a child, or is failing to protect the child.

Such a report can also be made when someone is concerned that a child is in danger of being abused or in danger of not being properly cared for by the parents or someone else. Generally, people make reports of possible child abuse or neglect to the police or to social workers.

Whenever someone reports child abuse or neglect, by law, the social worker or police are required to launch an investigation. If the police are notified first, usually the police turn the case over to a social worker to conduct an investigation.

The Social Worker’s Investigation

Once a case lands in the hands of a social worker, he or she will investigate the report by talking to the parents, the child, people who know the parents and the family, and the social worker will look at where the family lives.

The social worker may talk to the child at their school without the parents being present for the interview. “But is that legal?” a lot of parents ask. Social workers can talk to children at school; they do not need court orders to speak to children at school, as long as there are no police officers present when social workers talk to children. However, if a social worker were to talk to your child at school, he or she would have to inform you that they interviewed your child at school.

After the social worker conducts their investigation, one of the following will occur:

  • The social worker will not take any action because he or she did not find any evidence of abuse or neglect.
  • The social worker will offer you voluntary services, which are free services that can help you get educated on safe parenting.
  • The social will leave your child in your car, but they’ll petition the court to open a case that will protect your child.
  • The social worker will take your child and remove him or her from your care. This is the worst-case scenario. In this situation, the social worker would file a petition with the court asking the court to open a case to protect your child. If the social worker believes your child is in immediate danger under your care, the social worker will remove your child from your home. If this happens, the social worker may place your child in someone else’s care, which we explain below.

What Do I Do if My Child Was Removed?

If your child was removed from your home, surely, you’re very distraught right about now. One of the single, most important things you can do in this situation is giving the social worker on your case the names and numbers of family members who you’d feel good about taking your child for the time being. Do you have a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, or an aunt or uncle who you’d like to care for your child during the investigation? If so, give their information to the social worker.

When children are taken away from their parents, they have four placement options: 1) the other parent if the parents do not live together, 2) a family member, or 3) a foster home, or 4) a shelter. Most people don’t want their children to be placed with strangers as this can be very stressful and traumatic for the children and their parents. If you don’t want your child going to a foster home or a shelter, be sure to give your relatives’ information to the social worker on your case.

“Can I see my child, after they’ve been removed from my care?” If your child is taken away from you, we suggest that you ask the social worker for frequent visits with your son or daughter. If it is appropriate considering the facts of your case to see your child, you’ll be able to see him or her while you wait to attend your first court hearing, which is called the “detention hearing” in most California courts.

Even if your child has been removed, you still have rights regarding your child’s education. So, we advise that you continue being involved in your child’s educational decisions. If you fail to respond and participate in school meetings, your right to make educational decisions on your child’s behalf can be limited by the court. You also have the right to make healthcare decisions for your child and attend your child’s doctor's appointments.

If you’re subject to child abuse or neglect case, contact Claery & Hammond, LLP at once to schedule a free consultation.