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 best outcomes for foster children occur when everyone involved in the child’s care and supervision works together using all of the legal tools available to them. Too often problems in a child’s case are not identified and communicated effectively to the Juvenile Court or the responsible agencies. The main parties involved in the Juvenile Court process are the Juvenile Court, county child welfare agencies, foster family agencies, and attorneys.
THE JUVENILE COURT
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 ensure 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. 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).
County child welfare agencies are accountable to the juvenile courts as they propose outcomes for initial case disposition hearings and review hearings. Foster family agencies are also accountable to the juvenile courts.
COUNTY WELFARE AGENCY
County child welfare agencies are responsible for the day-to-day casework for foster children in California. County agencies must file reports and recommendations to the juvenile court at the time of disposition, review hearings, and permanency planning hearings.
FOSTER FAMILY AGENCY
Foster family agencies (FFAs) are also responsible for the day-to-day casework with foster children in California. FFAs have a duty to file periodic reports with the juvenile court, including a JV-290 Caregiver Information Form. The California Welfare and Institution Code §366.21(d) requires that most reports be filed prior to any hearing involving a child in the custody of a community care facility or foster family agency that may result in the return of the child to the custody of his or her parent or legal guardian, adoption, or the creation of a legal guardianship.
Attorneys appointed by the court for each child and parent/guardian for each case are called Minor’s Counsel. Attorneys charged with the duty of representing foster children in the juvenile court system have a tremendous responsibility. It is important for all child advocates to be familiar with Welfare and Institutions Code Section 317(e), which lays out the roles and responsibilities of attorneys charged with the representation of a child in foster care. For more information about the role of minor’s counsel, see our Attorneys Representing Children page.
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:
FORMS CAREGIVERS MAY SUBMIT TO THE COURT
|Form Number and Name||When to File||More Information on the Advokids Website|
|JV-285||Relative Information form||Anytime||More information on the JV-285|
|JV-180||Request to Change Court Order form||1) An immediate hearing is required; and
2) Circumstances have changed or there is new evidence; and
3) It is in the child’s best interests to modify a previous order.
The JV-180 is also appropriate when you seek visits, placement, or contact with a dependent sibling in foster care, or on behalf of a child who has a sibling in foster care.
|More information on the JV-180|
|JV-295||De Facto Parent Request form||A de facto parent is a person who has been found by the court to have “assumed, on day-to-day basis, the role of the parent, fulfilling both the child’s physical and psychological need for care and affection, and who has assumed that role for a substantial period.”||More information on the JV-295|
|JV-290||Caregiver Information form||Any individual or agency caring for a foster child may file this form in order to provide information about the foster child to the court.||More information on the JV-290|
|JV-321||Request For Prospective Adoptive Parent Designation, Notice, and Order form||1) The .26 Hearing date has ben set.
2) The child has lived with you for at least six months
3) You must currently express a commitment to adopt
4) You must have taken at least ONE “step to facilitate the adoption” process.
|More information on the JV-321|
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. The department must ensure that the child has telephone contact with his or her parent within 5 hours of being taken into custody. The department must also inform children over the age of 10 within one hour of being taken into custody that they are entitled to two telephone calls, one to their parent and one to an attorney.
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.
*A judicial hour or judicial day is an hour or day that court is in session
For more information on what to do when the Agency does not act on serious allegations of abuse or neglect, see our Request a Child’s Protection Through Juvenile Court page.
INITIAL HEARING / DETENTION HEARING
The initial hearing for a child who remains in the custody of the parent/guardian is set within 30 days of the filing of the petition.
The initial hearing is a “detention hearing” if a child has been taken from their home and placed into protective custody. At the detention hearing the court determines whether the child is to remain in protective custody pending the jurisdictional hearing or returned to the parent. The detention hearing is to be held as soon as possible but no later the expiration of judicial day following the filing of the petition.
At the detention hearing the court is to:
- Advise the parent(s) present of their right to counsel and appoint counsel if the parent is financially eligible for appointed counsel.
- Advise the parent(s) of the reasons the child was taken into custody, the nature of the juvenile court proceedings, unless waived.
- Inquire as to paternity and take steps to determine paternity as early as possible.
- Receive the social worker’s report and whatever relevant evidence is offered.
- Determine whether reasonable efforts were made by the agency to prevent removal and whether there are available services to prevent the need for further detention.
- If the child is detained inquire into relatives available for placement.
- If the child is released determine whether the petition is to be dismissed or the case is to proceed.
At the jurisdiction hearing the court determines whether the allegations of the petition are true. The jurisdictional hearing is to be set within 30 days of the filing of the petition for a child not in custody and within 15 days of the detention order.
At the jurisdictional hearing the court decides if what the petition alleges is true based on the evidence before the court. The parents must be told about their right to a trial by the judge. Then parents may admit the petition is true, submit the patter for the court to decide based on whatever evidence the court has, or contest the petition.
Note that there are no jurisdictional “orders,” there are the findings on the petition that bring the child within the jurisdiction of the court for the court to next determine proper disposition.
At disposition the court hears evidence on the question of the proper disposition to be made on behalf of the child. The disposition hearing may be set on the same day as the jurisdictional hearing and immediately follow the jurisdiction or may be continued to a future date. If the child is detained the continuance may not exceed 10 days. If the child is not detained the continuance may not exceed 30 days.
Absent a finding of exceptional circumstances, disposition must be concluded within 60 days of the date of detention and, in any event, disposition cannot exceed six months from the date of detention.
At disposition the question is what would best resolve the issues of child before the court. All options are open. The court may:
- Return the child and dismiss the petition with prejudice.
- Return the child and dismiss the petition without prejudice.
- Return the child in favor of three to six months of voluntary in home services.
- Return the child, declare the child a dependent of the court, and order family maintenance services with a review of the need to continue such services set no more than six months from the date of disposition.
- Remove the child and order reunification services to be reviewed at a hearing set no more than six months from the date of disposition.
- Remove the child, deny reunification services (by-pass), and set a §366.26 hearing within 120 days to determine the appropriate permanent plan.
- Review and order the case plan developed by the social worker
The court must:
- Review and order the case plan completed by the social worker within 60 days of the child’s initial removal from the home or by the date of disposition whichever is earlier.
- Address multiple other issues such as paternity if paternity has not been resolved, parental visitation, grandparent visitation, sibling visitation and placement, relative search, placement preferences, concurrent planning, educational and developmental rights, Indian Child Welfare Act if applicable, Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children if applicable, the Guardianship option, the Relinquishment option
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
The six month review hearing is set within six calendar months of the disposition hearing. If the child was younger than three at the time of initial removal, reunification services are to be offered/provided for a minimum* of 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.
*However, if the parents fail to participate at all in the services offered or fail to make any progress whatsoever a petition may be filed to bring that to the attention of the court and request the court terminate reunification services immediately.
At each review hearing “after considering the admissible and relevant evidence,” the court shall order the return of the child to the physical custody of his or her parent… unless the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that return would create a substantial risk of detriment to the safety, protection, or physical or emotional well-being of the child.” The failure of the parent to participate regularly and make substantive progress is prima facie evident that return of the child would be detrimental.
At the six month review hearing and each subsequent review hearing the Court is to:
- Review and consider the reports submitted by the social worker, the CASA, if any, the FFA, if any, and any caregiver, and relative reports.
- Address any dispositional issues not yet resolved.
- Review the reunification progress of the parents taking into account any particular barriers to parents ability to maintain contact with his or her child due to incarceration, institutionalization, or detention by the United States Department of Homeland Security, or deportation.
- If a child 10 years of age or older is not present, the court is to inquire whether that child received notice and the opportunity to attend and, if not, the court may continue the matter for the child to appear.
- If the child is 10 years of age or older and has been placed out of home for more than six months the court is to determine whether efforts have been made to maintain relationships with individuals who are important to the child.
With the required findings of reasonable progress and substantial probability of return, or upon a finding that the agency has not provided reasonable services, the court can set the matter for the permanency hearing no more than twelve months from the date of initial removal.
If the court finds by clear and convincing evidence the parents have failed to participate and make progress in the services offered and there is not probable the child(ren) can be returned before the twelve month permanency date, the court may terminate reunification services and set a §366.26 hearing within 120 days to select thepermanent plan.
12-MONTH PERMANENCY HEARING
The “permanency hearing” or “12 month review hearing,” must take place no later than 12 months after the date the child entered foster care which is the date of jurisdiction or 60 days from the date of removal, whichever is earlier.
At the permanency hearing, in addition to all other review hearing issues, for youth 16 years and older, the court is to determine whether services have been made available to assist in the transition from foster care to independent living.
At each review hearing be it 6, 12, 18, or 24 months, the court shall the child to the custody of the parents unless there is evidence before the court to establish that return would be detrimental to the child. There are escalating standards for continuing the case as it moves from a 6 to a 12 to an 18 or a 24 month hearing.
Services can be extended from the 12 month hearing to a date 18 months from the date of initial removal only if the court there is a substantial probability the child will be returned and safely maintained in the parental home. To make that finding of a substantial probability of a safe and lasting return within the period to the 18 months hearing the court must make all of the following findings:
- 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 from the home.
- The parent has demonstrated the capacity or ability or both to complete the objectives of his or her treatment plan and to provide for the child’s safety, protection, physical and emotional well-being and special needs.
If the court finds by a preponderance of evidence that it would be detrimental to return the child and by clear and convincing evidence that reasonable services have been provided, the court may terminate reunification services and set a §366.26 hearing within 120 days to determine the permanent plan.
18-MONTH PERMANENCY REVIEW HEARING
The “permanency review hearing,” or “18 month review hearing,” must take place within 18 months of the date the child was initially removed from the physical custody of his or her parents.
Again there must be a preponderance of evidence for the court to find it would be detrimental to return the child(ren) to the parent or the court shall order return.
To establish substantial probability of return and continue the case from an 18 month to a 24 month hearing the court must find by clear and convincing evidence that the best interests of the child would be met by the provision of additional reunification services to a parent who is making significant and consistent progress in a court-ordered residential substance abuse treatment program, or a parent recently discharged from incarceration, institutionalization, or the Department of Homeland Security and making significant and consistent progress in establishing a safe home for the child’s return.
The court must also find all of the following:
- The parent has consistently and regularly contacted and visited with the child.
- The parent has made significant and consistent progress in the prior 18 months in resolving problems that led to the child’s removal from the home.
- The parent has demonstrated the capacity and ability both to complete the objectives of his or her substance treatment plan as evidenced by reports from a substance abuse provider, or complete a treatment plan post discharge from incarcerations, institutionalizations, or detention, or following deportation to his or her country of origin and his or her return to the United States, and to provide for the child’s safety, protective, physical and emotional well-being and special needs.
24-MONTH SUBSEQUENT PERMANENCY REVIEW HEARING
The 24 month subsequent permanency review hearing shall be held within 24 months after the child was initially removed. The court shall order return unless the court finds by preponderance of the evidence that return would create a substantial risk of detriment.
If the child is not returned to a parent the court shall order a hearing to determine the permanent plan for the child(ren).
SELECTION & IMPLEMENTATION HEARING, also known as the .26 HEARING
The § 366.26 hearing to select the permanent plan for the children 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:
- Terminate parental rights and refer the child(ren) for adoption,
- Name a legal guardian for the child(ren), and issue letters of guardianship or
- Place the child(ren) into some other planned permanent living arrangement.
Post Permanency Status Review Hearings
When the court orders a permanent plan of adoption or legal guardianship at the .26 hearing, the court must retain jurisdiction over the case until the child is adopted or the legal guardianship is established. For any other arrangement the court must conduct a status review every six months until jurisdiction is terminated.
These post permanency status reviews are to cover:
- The continuing necessity and appropriateness of the placement
- Identification of individual (other than the child’s siblings) who are important to a child 10 years of age or older and actions necessary to maintain the child’s relationship with those individuals. The social worker is to ask every child to provide such information
- The adequacy of the services provided to the child
- Sibling issues
- Continuing efforts to identify a prospective adoptive parent or legal guardian
- The extent of the agency’s compliance with the case plan in making reasonable efforts either to return the child to a safe home of the parent or to take whatever steps are necessary to finalize a permanent plan for the child
If the court denies or terminates reunification services and sets the case for a.26 hearing, and the parent wishes to contest that decision, they must file what is called a “writ petition.”
The parent must file a “Notice of Intent to File a Writ Petition” and a request for the record:
- Within 7 days of the order setting the hearing if the parent was present in court when reunification services were terminated
- Within 12 days of the date the clerk mailed notification if the parent was not present and was notified of termination of services by mail only
- Within 17 days of the date the clerk mailed notification if the notice was sent out of state
- Within 27 days if the notice was mailed outside of the United States
- If the order terminating services was made by a referee, add an additional ten days to each of the above
Once all of the papers are filed by all of the parties, they can decide to argue the case before the reviewing court, or allow the papers to speak for themselves. If the parties opt to argue, the reviewing court must set “Oral Arguments” within 30 days after the response is filed or is due to be filed.
There is no fixed time by which the reviewing court must render its decision, but generally the court gives its opinion before the .26 hearing takes place.
APPEALS FROM THE .26 HEARING
The legislature and judicial council have the stated goal of completing appeals from an order terminating parental rights at a .26 hearing within 250 days after a notice of appeals is filed, in order to avoid substantial detriment to a child by delays from appeals.
In order to preserve the right to appeal a “notice of appeal” must be filed within 60 days of the order terminating parental rights. If a referee makes an appealable order, the notice of appeal must be filed within 60 days of the order becoming final.
If the parties wish to argue the case before the reviewing court, they must file a request for oral argument no later than 15 days after the reply brief is filed or due to be filed. The court must hear oral arguments within 60 days after the reply brief is filed or due to be filed, unless the court extends that time for “good cause” or if the parties waive oral argument.
The reviewing court is expected to determine the appeal within 250 days after the notice of appeal is filed.
ANY TIME IN THE CASE
In order to preserve the right to appeal, a notice of appeal must be filed within 60 days of the disposition hearing or any subsequent hearing that results in a final appealable order. If a referee makes an appealable order, the notice of appeal must be filed within 60 days of the order becoming final.
SUBSEQUENT PETITION §342
The social worker can file a “subsequent petition” in an on-going case to allege additional grounds for jurisdiction. A §342 subsequent petition follows the same timelines and procedures as an initial §300 petition.
SUPPLEMENTAL PETITION §387
The social worker can file a “supplemental petition” in an on-going case to request removal of the child from the custody of parent, relative, or friend or to request authorization to move the child to a higher level of care such as a relative to foster home or foster home to group home. A §387 petition follows the same timelines and procedures as an initial petition.
REQUEST TO CHANGE COURT ORDER §388
Any person with an interest in dependent child may file a “§388 petition” on a judicial council form “JV-180” to request a change in court order. The petition must show a change in circumstance or new evidence and show that the proposed change in order would be in the best interest of the child. If the request is not denied on its face, the petition must be set for hearing within 30 calendar days following the filing of the petition. The hearing should be conducted as a disposition hearing.
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