THE TIMELINE OF THE JUVENILE COURT PROCESS
In most cases, a dependency case comes to court shortly after a child has been removed from their home by the police or a social worker. The police or social worker may remove a child from their home if they have a reason to believe the child is not safe, or if there is a credible threat against the safety and well-being of the child.
The court’s authority for dependency cases is found within the California Welfare and Institutions Code. The court’s role is to ensure that the rights of children and their family are protected and exercised in accordance with the law. The court also ensures that the government has performed its duties as appropriate under the law and appoints an attorney to represent each parent/guardian and child. During these hearings the court will consider several issues related to each case. The court may consider information regarding the severity of allegations, the age of the children, police and social worker reports, medical and psychiatric reports, family history, kinship (relatives), and oral arguments from attorneys. Attorneys are appointed by the court for each child and parent/guardian for each case. Testimony may be heard from people such as social worker(s), police officers, parents, family members, doctors, teachers, witnesses, and in some cases by the child(ren).
The timelines that are a part of our dependency statute recognize the importance of a child’s sense of time, the central role of the young child’s caregiver attachment relationship that drives the child’s growth and development, and determines the ultimate structure of the brain. To this end, the legislature has enacted shorter timelines for children under three years old. For children under three at the time at the time of removal the statutory time limit is six months from the date of disposition unless the parent has made substantive progress and the court finds the child may be returned to a safe and permanent home within in the next six month period or reasonable services have not been provided to the parents. For more information on this, please see the 6-Month Review Hearing section below.
Respecting the time lines and honoring the child’s caregiver relationship is critical to the health and safety of the developing child.
The following chart illustrates the dependency hearing proceedings:
A child in need of immediate care or protection may be placed into temporary custody by a peace officer or protective services social worker. When a child is taken into protective custody, the social worker or probation officer must take immediate steps to notify the child’s parent, guardian or a responsible relative. Additionally, the department must ensure that the child has telephone contact with his or her parent within 5 hours of being taken into custody.
If a child has been taken into protective custody, the Department must file a petition within 48 judicial hours.The petition initiates dependency court hearings, identifies the child(ren) and parent(s) involved with the case, and describes the allegations of abuse or neglect against the child(ren). The court clerk files the petition and assigns the case to a courtroom for an initial hearing.
If the petition is not filed within the requisite time, the child must be released back to the parent or guardian.
When a child is held in protective custody more than six hours and released without the filing of a petition, the social worker must, within 72 hours of the release, prepare for the agency file an explanation of the reason the child was held in custody and provide a copy of that explanation to the child’s parent or guardian.
INITIAL HEARING / DETENTION HEARING
The initial hearing is also called a “detention hearing” if a child has been taken from their home and placed into protective custody. The detention hearing at which the court determines whether the child is to remain in custody pending the jurisdictional hearing is to be held as soon as possible but no later the expiration of judicial day following the filing of the petition.
The following actions occur at the detention hearing:
- The court gives the parents a notice about what is happening (the “proceedings”).
- The parents get a copy of the petition and any other documents for the case.
- The court tells the parents what can happen in a dependency case.
- The lawyers for all sides (called “parties”) introduce themselves to the court.
- The court writes down the names of the child(ren)’s relatives, if possible.
- If possible, the court confirms who the parents of the child(ren) are; also called “parentage.”
- The court decides if the child(ren) should stay with a parent(s) or live somewhere else until further proceedings take place.
If the court places a child away from a parent, the court may make visitation orders so the parent(s) can see the child(ren). The court will also tell the parent(s) where they can get help so the child(ren) can be returned into their custody. The court also decides if the Social Service’s Agency made a “reasonable effort” to keep the child(ren) with the parents.
The jurisdiction hearing at which the court finds the allegations of the petition true or not is to be set within 30 calendar days of the filing of the petition for a child not detained and, for a child in custody, within 15 judicial days of the date the child was ordered detained.
At the jurisdictional hearing the court decides if what the petition alleges is true. The court has three ways to do this:
- The parent(s)/guardian(s) admit the petition is true (called “admission”).
- The parent(s)/guardian(s) do not disagree with the petition (called “submission”).
- The parent(s)/guardian(s) dispute, or contest the petition. Both sides give the court evidence at a hearing. Then, the court finds the petition to be true or not.
Before the judge accepts an admission or submission, the court has to be sure the parent(s)/guardian(s) want to “waive” (give up) their right to a trial. This means the parent(s)/guardian(s) are giving up the right to see, hear and question witnesses, and to bring in their own witnesses, testify, or choose to remain silent.
The disposition hearing may immediately follow the jurisdictional hearing at which a petition was sustained or it may be continued to a future date. However, absent a finding of exceptional circumstances, the disposition hearing must be concluded within 60 days of detention and, in no event, is the time for completion of the disposition to exceed six months.
If the court decides the petition is true, it will say what should happen with the child(ren). The judge can:
- Dismiss the case.
- Proceed with a “family maintenance” program and let the child(ren) live with a parent(s)/guardian(s). A social worker and the court supervise the child(ren) while under the care of a parent(s)/guardian(s). These cases must be reviewed by the court at least every six months beginning from the date of the original disposition.The court may have this hearing to check up on the child(ren), see how the social worker is working with the family, or see how the parent(s) are doing with their case plan. The social worker’s report is to be filed with the court and furnished to all parties at least ten days prior to the review hearing. There is no limit on the time the court can maintain its jurisdiction and require family maintenance services, other than the child’s 21st birthday, as long as there is evidence that continued supervision and services are needed to ensure proper care. Welfare and Institutions Code §§364 303.
- Offer the parent(s) family reunification services and remove the child(ren) from the parent(s)/guardian(s).
- Do not offer the parent(s) family reunification services and remove the child(ren) from the parents. If this occurs, there will be a hearing within 120 days to decide where the child(ren) will live permanently (“permanent plan”).
Family Reunification Services
Family Reunification services may be ordered by the Court for the parent’s to regain physical custody of their child. The family reunification services are meant to alleviate the circumstances that led to the removal of their child.
There are circumstances in which the court may not let the parents have family reunification services, including but not limited to: prior child abuse that resulted in a death of a sibling, prior child removal from the parents, the cancellation of past family reunification services, or serious drug or psychiatric problems that are not being treated.
If family reunification services are granted of a child that is under the age of three, law restricts these services to six months from the date of disposition but no longer than twelve months from the date the child entered foster care, unless the court makes findings of substantive parental progress and substantial probability of a safe return home within the next review period. Time is of the essence and the law recognizes that very young children are especially vulnerable to lack of permanency. For more information, see the Placement and Permanency Planning page on this website.
If at this disposition hearing the court orders the child to remain or be placed in custody, concurrent planning commences. The purpose of concurrent planning is to honor the child’s attachment needs and to expedite a permanent home for the child should reunification fail. For more information, see the Concurrent Planning page on this website.
6-MONTH REVIEW HEARING
If the child was younger than three at the time of initial removal, reunification services may be offered for six months from the date of disposition. If the court finds that there is substantive parental progress and a substantial probability of safe return home within the next six months, the court may extend services for an additional period, but no longer than twelve months from the date the child entered foster care.
The date the child entered foster care is either: the date the Jurisdictional Hearing was held; or 60 days from the date the child was removed from the physical custody of his or her parents, whichever is earlier.
Children removed from parental custody at the same time as their brothers or sisters are considered a part of a “Sibling Group.” This applies to half siblings and stepsiblings as well. If one of the children in the sibling group was under the age of three at the time of initial removal, services to some or all of the siblings can be limited to six months from the date of disposition, for the purposes of placing and maintaining a sibling group together in a permanent home.
12-MONTH PERMANENCY HEARING
At this hearing the court decides if the child(ren) will return to the custody of their parent(s). Services can be extended to 18 months from the date of original removal if, at the 12 month permanency hearing, it can be shown that there is a substantial probability that the child can safely be returned home within the extended period and the court can find the parent has consistently and regularly contacted and visited the child, the parent has made significant progress in resolving the problems that led to the child’s removal, and the parent has demonstrated the capacity and ability to complete their treatment plan and provide for the child’s safety, protection, physical and emotional well-being, and special needs.
The “permanency hearing,” or “12 month review hearing,” must take place no later than 12 months after the date the child entered foster care.
If not, the court will cancel the services so the child(ren) can receive a permanent plan. The court must set a .26 hearing, which is a hearing to decide a permanency plan for the child(ren). For more information, see the .26 Hearing section on this page.
18-MONTH PERMANENCY HEARING
At this hearing, the court decides if the child(ren) will go back to the parent(s). If not, the judge will cancel family reunification services. The court will have a hearing to decide a permanent plan for the child(ren).
The “permanency review hearing,” or “18 month review hearing,” must take place within 18 months of the date the child was originally removed from the physical custody of his or her parents.
SELECTION & IMPLEMENTATION HEARING, also known as a .26 HEARING or PERMANENCY PLANNING HEARING
The .26 hearing to select the permanent plan for the children This hearing must be set within 120 days of:
- the date reunification services were denied under §361.5(b), (i.e. a by-pass), or
- the date reunification services were terminated at a 6, 12, 18, or 24 month review/permanency hearing.
At this hearing, the court makes a permanent plan for the child(ren). The plan can:
- end parental rights so the child(ren) can be adopted,
- name a legal guardian for the child(ren), or
- place the child(ren) with a relative, foster parent, or in a group home for an extended period of time.
At the .26 hearing, if the agency is recommending that parental rights be terminated so that the child can be adopted, the parents may object to the grounds for termination and request a contested hearing, which allows them to present witnesses and evidence. A contested hearing will delay the final decision on whether the child can be adopted and is usually set several weeks or several months out, depending on the court’s calendar. If the birth parents do not prevail at the contested .26 hearing and their parental rights are terminated, they have 60 days within which to file an appeal of the termination order. If the parents do file an appeal, the adoption will be delayed pending a decision from the Court of Appeal, a process than can take many months.
Appeals from the termination of parental rights are “fast-tracked” which means that they move faster through the appellate system than other kinds of appeals but they can still feel like they take a long time if you are the prospective adoptive parent waiting for finalization. Generally, the briefing is completed in about four to five months but can take longer if the record prepared by the trial court clerk is not complete. If the record is not complete, one of the appellate attorneys will file a motion to augment the record and that process can take one or two months. The briefing time does not start until the record is complete. Once the briefing is complete, the court will generally set the case for oral argument to be heard within two or three months after that. Once the court has heard oral argument, or the appellate attorneys waive oral argument, the case is considered submitted and the court has 90 days after the submission date to decide the case. They often do not take that long. If the court rules against the birth parents(s), then they have the option of filing a petition for review with the Supreme Court within 40 days of the date of the court of appeal’s decision. If they choose to do that, the process can take up to an additional four or five months before the Supreme Court decides whether to grant or deny the petition for review. If the court grants the petition for review, resolution could take several more years. Historically, the Supreme Court only grants review in about two dependency cases a year, so that odds of that happening are really low.
There is a way that you can keep track of what is happening in the appeal online. You can go to http://appellatecases.courtinfo.ca.gov/ where you can search by County. Once you have hit the “search” button, there, type your juvenile court case number in the first box. This number should be on notices of juvenile court hearings you should have received from the county. After you type in the number, hit search. This will take you to an information page concerning the appeal in your case. If you click on “Docket,” that will give you a chronological listing of the various events that had taken place in the appeal. At the bottom of the page, you can click a box to sign up for automatic same day email notifications of significant events in the case like the filing of the various briefs and the issuance of the court’s decision. If you also bookmark the docket page, you can easily get back to it to check periodically for things that may have happened for which there is no email notification.
POST-PERMANENCY PLANNING HEARING
This hearing determines if progress is being made to find a permanent home for the child(ren) and if the case can be dismissed. This type of hearing can occur every six months until the case is dismissed.
Source: Superior Court of California – Orange County, Modified by Advokids. This information is applicable to all counties in California.
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