Foster Care and Adoption
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The timelines that are a part of our dependency statutes recognize the importance of a child’s sense of time, the central role of the young child’s caregiver relationship that drives the child’s growth and development, and determines the ultimate structure of the child’s brain. To this end, the legislature has enacted shorter timelines for children under three years old. For children under three at the time of removal, the statutory time limit on renunciation services for parent is six months from the date of disposition unless the parent has made substantial progress and the court finds the child may be returned to a safe home by the date of the 12 month review hearing 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 court's authority for dependency cases is found within the California Welfare and Institutions Code (Welfare and Institutions Code § 300 et seq.). The court's role is to ensure that the rights of children and their families are protected in accordance with the law designed to protect abused and neglected children and youth. The court appoints an attorney to represent each parent/guardian and child. During hearings, the court may consider information about the alleged abuse or neglect, the wellbeing of the child, police and social worker reports, medical and psychiatric reports, family history, placement options, and oral arguments from attorneys. Testimony may be heard from people such as social workers, police officers, parents, family members, doctors, teachers, witnesses, other service providers, and in some cases, the children.
Attorneys are appointed by the court for each child and parent/guardian separately for each case. The child has a right to participate in court. If a child 10 years of age or older is not present, the court will inquire as to whether that child received notice and the opportunity to attend and, if not, the may continue the matter for the child to appear.
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 2 court days. 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 for more than six hours and released without the filing a petition, the social worker must, within 72 hours of the release, file an explanation of why the child was held in custody and provide a copy of that explanation to the child’s parent or guardian.
The initial hearing for a child who remains in the custody of the parent/guardian must be 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. This hearing must be held the next court day after the petition is filed. At the detention hearing the court determines whether the child is to remain in protective custody pending the jurisdiction hearing or returned to the parent.
At the detention hearing the court is required to:
The jurisdiction hearing must 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, if the child is in protective custody.
At the jurisdiction 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 matter 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 as to whether the allegations of the petition are true which would bring the child within the jurisdiction of the court.
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 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, the disposition hearing must be concluded within 60 days of the date of detention and, in no event, may disposition exceed six months from the date of detention. At disposition the question is what would best address the issues concerning the welfare of the child before the court. The court may:
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. 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 before the six months are up.
If the court finds that there is a substantial probability of safe return by the time of the 12-month hearing, 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 Jurisdiction Hearing was held; or 60 days from the date the child was physically removed from the home, whichever is earlier.
Children who are removed at the same time as their brothers or sisters are considered part of a “sibling group.” This concept of a "sibling group" applies to half sibling and step-sibling relationships, 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.
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 evidence that return of the child would be detrimental.
At the six month review hearing and each subsequent review hearing the Court must:
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 the child's entry into foster care.
If the court finds by clear and convincing evidence the parents have failed to participate and make progress in the services offered and it 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 the permanent plan.
The “permanency review hearing,” or “18 month review hearing,” must take place within 18 months of the date the child was initially removed from 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 must 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 the parent was recently discharged from incarceration, institutionalization, or the Department of Homeland Security and is 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 24 month subsequent permanency review hearing must be held within 24 months after the child was initially removed. The court must order return unless the court finds by preponderance of the evidence that return would create a substantial risk of detriment to the child.
If the child is not returned to a parent the court shall order a § 366.26 hearing to determine the permanent plan for the child(ren).
The § 366.26 hearing to select the permanent plan for the children must be set within 120 days of:
At this hearing, the court makes a permanent plan for the child(ren). The plan can:
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:
Download a copy of the Dependency Timeline
Understanding Child Welfare and the Courts
How the Child Welfare System Works
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