18 Jun How Child Dependency and Reunification Works in California
If you have been accused of serious neglect or abuse of your child(ren) it is possible that California’s Child Dependency Court will be involved. An initial investigation of the allegations and a swift decision may be made whether to remove your child from your custody and place him / her with a relative, or temporary foster parents, or a foster home. This can be one of the most alarming and anxious times of your life as a parent. The article below attempts to briefly describe the state’s child dependency system and how you may be able to recover care of your child through a reunification plan.
Removal of your child
The Department of Social Services may appoint an emergency response worker to investigate the conditions under which your child is living. If the worker believes that the child is unsafe or severely neglected in any way, then your child may be removed and placed with someone else on a temporary basis. The most common concerns are a history of physical abuse and / or sexual abuse of the child and domestic violence within the home.
The detention hearing
The first opportunity you have after removal of your child is to attend a detention hearing. Here the reasons why your child was removed are explained and you are given an opportunity to confirm or deny the allegations being made. The court will make a decision whether to retain the custody of your child or return him/her to your care if it is believed that the situation is not a serious concern. You are strongly advised to get help and advice from a sympathetic and knowledgeable family law attorney if you have been told you must attend a detention hearing.
The jurisdiction hearing
At the jurisdiction hearing you have the opportunity to refute the allegations made against you, present your side of the story, and outline why you think your child should be returned to your care. It is vital that you display courteous and controlled behavior whenever you attend these hearings as an explosion of uncontrolled anger or rage may work against your interests. Again the judge will decide whether to believe you and that your child will be safe if he/she returns to your car or whether the child will remain in a foster home or placed with a relative. If the hearing does not go your way, but you have suitable relatives in mind, it is in your interest to let the court know which of your relatives would make a good temporary custodian.
The disposition hearing and reunification plan
At the next hearing an officer will be assigned to your case and a plan devised which is intended to lead to reunification. The plan may involve a program of social work, attendance at therapy sessions and counseling which may help to change your behavior and make you a better parent in the court’s eyes. If you follow the plan to the best of your ability and respect the case officer / social worker assigned to you, then there is a good chance of reunification being allowed.
6 month / 12month review hearings
At 6 months following the disposition hearing, your behavior and suitability for parenting will be reviewed. If it is still thought that your child would not yet be safe with you, then the reunification will be suspended for a further 6 months when another review hearing will be heard.
A permanency hearing will be held after an unsatisfactory 12 month review hearing and decision to retain care of the child in a foster home or suitable relative. Basically, the permanency hearing and a later hearing known as the .26 hearing are designed to make decisions about permanently taking care of the child away from your own care. This may mean putting the child up for adoption.
There are many reasons why circumstances develop to the point that you lose custody of your child or children to the care of the state. With determination and the desire to modify any behavior that has justifiably been identified as unsafe for your child, you have a good chance of reunification. Your Orange County Law Firm of Damian Nolan has very sympathetic and experienced family law attorneys who can work with you in this very difficult phase of your parental life. Contact our office for an appointment today on 562-634-1115.