Juvenile dependency proceedings are initiated when it is believed that the children have been abused or neglected. The office of County Council files a petition to make these children wards of the court. These proceedings are governed the by California Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 et, seq. If there is a finding of wrongdoing on behalf of the parents, or if the court believes that the children are at risk, it will assert jurisdiction over the children. In plain English, that means that the court has the authority to make decisions regarding the placement and care of these children, while their parents go through rehabilitation. Parental rights are suspended during this interim period.
When the juvenile court asserts jurisdiction over these children, the parents are placed on a reunification program, and are given county services in order to enable them to reunite with their children. These services include therapy, anger management, addiction and substance abuse prevention, and other similar services. The parents have from six (6) to eighteen (18) months to complete the program. If they are successful, they are reunited with their children and the court terminates its jurisdiction. If they are unsuccessful, a court will make orders regarding permanent placement of the children.
Permanent placement will encompass one of three options: 1) long term foster care, 2) placement with a legal guardian, or 3) adoption. In long term foster care, parental rights are not terminated. Thus, a parent who fails to reunify with his or her children under the original reunification plan, may still work towards doing so at a later time. When children are placed with a legal guardian, the parental rights of the biological parents are suspended, but not terminated. The children live with the guardian, and the guardian makes all decisions regarding their health, education and welfare. Legal guardianships automatically terminate when the children reach eighteen years of age. Proceedings may be initiated to terminate legal guardianships at an earlier time, depending upon the circumstances. In situations involving adoption, the parental rights of the biological parents are terminated.
Due to the severity of the potential long-term consequences, it is important that parents who are parties to a dependency proceeding hire an experienced dependency lawyer who can help them navigate through the system. They should be represented at every level of the proceedings, from the initial jurisdictional hearing, up to and through the final hearing to either terminate parental rights, or to terminate the courts jurisdiction.
Several important decisions must be made early on, which may effect the final outcome. First and foremost, a decision must be made regarding placement of the children, when they are initially taken into protective custody. In general, they will either be placed in a foster home or with suitable relatives, while their parents go through rehabilitation. The placement decision is crucial and could affect whether they will ultimately reunite with their biological parents, remain in long term foster care, be placed with legal guardians, or be adopted.
Secondly, the allegations of the Petition must be addressed. An experienced dependency lawyer will know whether to negotiate the terms of the Petition and the reunification plan, or whether the clients should contest the courts initial assumption of jurisdiction, and go to trial.
I spent my first eight years practicing dependency law in the San Francisco Bay Area. I represented parties from all sides of the spectrum, including parents, foster-adopt parents, legal guardians, and children. Thus, I understand these proceedings from all angles. Accordingly, I am an effective advocate for anyone who is a party to a dependency action, and who has had his or her children removed from their custody.
Los Angeles Family Law Attorney, Randi Susan Klein
@ The Paul Hastings Tower, 515 S. Flower St., 36th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90071
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