What Kinds of Legal Hearings Are Held in Juvenile Dependency Court?
The information below describes the types of hearings commonly scheduled in Juvenile Dependency Court.
What happens at the Initial Hearing (Detention Hearing)?
At the initial hearing, parents are given notice of the proceedings, presented with a copy of the petition, and any supporting documents relating to the proceedings. Attorneys are identified for all parties. Relatives and paternerity may be identified at this hearing as well.
The Court decides whether the child should remain with a parent or be placed outside of home on an emergency basis. If the child is removed from a parent, the Court makes visitation orders and refers the parents to appropriate services. The Court also makes a finding whether the Department of Family and Children’s Services has made reasonable efforts to prevent removal of the child from parental care.
What happens at a Jurisdictional Hearing?
At the jurisdictional hearing, the Court determines whether the statements in the petition are true. This can be accomplished in three ways:
- An admission by the parents or guardians
- A submission by the parents or guardians
- A finding by the court after a contested hearing at which evidence is received.
At either an admission or a submission, the Court must be satisfied that the parents have waived their rights to have a trial; to see, hear and question any witnesses who might testify; to use the Court’s power to bring their own witnesses to the trial; and to testify or remain silent.
What happens at a Dispositional Hearing?
If the Court finds that the statements in the petition or petitions are true, the Court will then decide what should happen with the child as a result of those findings. The options are to:
For option (D), the Court may not offer family reunification services to parents for a number of reasons:
- Dismiss all proceedings;
- Place the child with a parent on family maintenance (social worker and court supervision);
- Remove the child from the parents and place with a relative, foster parent, or in a group setting and offer the parents family reunification services.
- Remove the child from the parents and not offer the parents family reunification services. In this instance, the Court will set a hearing within 120 days to determine a permanent plan for the child.
- The child or a sibling may have been seriously abused or killed
- The parent may have had another child removed by the juvenile court
- Family reunification services may have been terminated
- The parent may have a serious substance abuse problem that has not been effectively addressed.
For these and other reasons, the Court may bypass family reunification services and order a permanency planning hearing.
What is a Six Month Review Hearing?
This hearing gives the Court an opportunity to review both (1) the child's progress in his/her current placement and (2) the parents' progress in response to the court ordered services.
There are a number of options for the Court at this hearing. If the child is living with a parent, the Court could (1) continue to provide court supervision under family maintenance, or (2) dismiss the case. If the child is in out-of-home care, the Court could (1) continue to maintain the child in out-of-home care and continue family reunification services, or (2) return the child to a parent on family maintenance. However, if the child was under three years of age when initially removed from parental care, the court may terminate reunification services at this hearing if the parent has not participated regularly and made substantive progress in court-ordered treatment programs.
What Happens at a Twelve Month Review Hearing?
This is the hearing when the Court will decide whether the child will be returned to the parents or if services will be terminated so that a permanency plan can be created for the child. The Court will extend services for an additional six months only if it makes a finding that there is a substantial probability of family reunification within the additional six months. Otherwise, if the child is not returned to a parent, family reunification services will be terminated and the Court will set a hearing to determine a permanency plan for the child.
What Happens at an Eighteen Month Review Hearing?
At this hearing, the Court will determine whether the child will be returned to the care of the parents or whether services will be terminated and the case be set for a hearing to determine the permanent plan for the child.
What happens at Other Review Hearings?
The Court may set other review hearings at any time to evaluate the welfare of the child, to review the provision of social services, or to monitor the parents' progress on their case plan.
What Happens at an Implemenational Hearing? (W&I 366.26)
At this hearing, the Court will determine the permanent plan for the child. The possible plans are (1) termination of parental rights so that the child may be adopted; (2) legal guardianship; and (3) long term placement with a relative, foster parent, or in a group setting. The statutory preference is for termination of parental rights and adoption because that is the most permanent plan for the child. The second preference is for legal guardianship. The least preferred permanent plan is long term placement because that option is the least likely to provide the child with a permanent home.
What Are the Possible Outcomes?
When a child is living with a parent and the juvenile court no longer needs to supervise the child, the Court can dismiss the case and create juvenile court custody orders. These are custody and visitation orders which are similar to those made by family court judges. If there is a disagreement in the future about these orders, the parties can go to the Hayward Hall of Justice or Rene C. Davidson and either mediate the disagreement or have a judge hear the matter.
Adoption hearings take place in the Juvenile Court for those children whose parents have lost their parental rights and who have been placed in adoptive homes.
- Concurrent Planning:
Because finding a permanent home in a timely fashion is important to meeting the best interests of children, the social service agency may be placing children who have been removed from their parents in homes which are prepared to adopt the child if the parents do not reunify within the statutory time lines. Concurrent planning means that two plans are taking place at the same time: family reunification and permanent placement in another home. The Juvenile Court is committed to locating family first.
Court decisions after contested hearings can be appealed. You need to talk to your attorney about how appeals are filed. Additionally, in some situations you may have to file an extraordinary writ to the Court of Appeals. Again, you should discuss this legal option with your attorney.