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Dependency Mediation

Juvenile Dependency Court Mediation

Juvenile dependency court handles legal matters related to the care and welfare of children when there is
an allegation that a child’s parent(s) or legal guardian(s) is neglecting or abusing his or her child, and
where there is no other legal parent or legal guardian who is legally obligated to care for the minor child.
Juvenile dependency court judges have the power to issue court orders designed to protect, as well as to
provide placement and care for, a minor child, when the child’s parent(s) or legal guardian(s), are abusive
and/or neglectful to their minor child, and/or when the parent, or parents, are incapable of caring for their
Juvenile Dependency Definitions: In juvenile dependency court, the term minor child means a person
under the age of eighteen. The term child abuse includes child molestation, unreasonable corporal
punishment, and/or severe psychological and/or verbal abuse. The term child neglect includes failure to
protect and/or provide for a child. The term incapable means that the parent is either mentally and/or
physically incapable of caring for a child, or voluntarily or involuntarily absent from the child’s life.

JD Process: Juvenile dependency cases, or “JD,” cases, usually begin when Child Protection Services
(CPS) files a petition for removal of the child from the custody or his or her parent or parents.
The petition will allege that the removal is necessary because the child’s parent, or parents, is abusive,
neglectful, or incapable of caring for the child and that there is no immediately available safe alternative,
such as a non-abusive parent, stepparent, guardian, or close family member.

Juvenile Dependency Court

The first hearing in juvenile dependency court is called the detention hearing. If
CPS removes a child from his or her parent’s or parents’ physical custody then CPS must file the petition
for removal in the juvenile dependency court within two days of removing the child.
The detention hearing will be heard the same business day as the filing of the petition for removal. If the
child was not removed from his or her parent’s or parents’ physical custody the detention hearing must be
held within fifteen days of the filing of the petition for removal.
At the detention hearing, the judge will decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence of child abuse
and/or child neglect on the face of the petition to justify removal of the child. If the juvenile dependency
court judge finds sufficient evidence to justify removal of the child he or she will set a jurisdiction
hearing and issue temporary child custody and/or child visitation orders, including child protection and/or
child placement orders. An attorney will also be appointed to each parent and minor(s). County Counsel
represents the Department of Human Services. The judge may also set mediation prior to the
jurisdictional hearing generally the week prior to the hearing.

The purpose of Dependency Mediation is to attempt to reach an agreement that is satisfactory to all parties and at the same time protect the welfare of the child(ren).  Dependency mediation is strictly confidential.  Confidential means that what is said in mediation remains in mediation and cannot be talked about in open court, show up in a written report or shared with persons who did not attend mediation.  A parent will decide if they are going to submit on the allegation(s), meaning the judge will review the jurisdiction report and make a finding based upon the evidence presented in the report, or contest the allegation(s), meaning the parent does not believe the allegation(s) is/are true or correct.  In the Dependency court, the judge only has to have a reasonable believe that what is alleged has happened to be found true.  Allegations are simply found true or not.  The preponderance of evidence is 50.1%.

At the jurisdiction hearing the juvenile dependency court judge will conduct a more in depth review of the allegations, including a review of the parent's or parents' responsive evidence, if any.

At the jurisdiction hearing a parent has a right to remain silent, a right to testify, a right to present favorable evidence, and a right to cross-examine adverse witnesses, including CPS workers. If the judge believes the allegations are true at the conclusion of the jurisdiction hearing he or she will have the power to make further orders at a disposition hearing.

At the disposition hearing the judge may issue any of the following orders: grant child custody to the parent or parents, grant placement to a third person (foster family, close relative of the child, etc.), grant child visitation orders to the parent or parents, issue restraining orders against a parent or parents, and/or allow reunification services, depending on the circumstances.  The court will also order the case plan recommended by CPS specific to the allegations in the petition.

Reunification services attempt to reunite, physically and emotionally, a child or children, with his or her parent or parents, in a manner designed to address the particular safety needs of the child or children as well as the rehabilitation needs of the parent or parents.

Reunification progress is closely monitored by the county's social worker who will prepare a progress report for the judge to consider at the next status review hearing. Status review hearings are held in juvenile dependency court at six, twelve, and eighteen months, depending on the child’s age, the nature of the allegations, the parent’s or parents' progress, and other factors.

Another option the court has in its effort to reunite the child with his or her parent or legal guardian is called family maintenance. With family maintenance, the minor child is returned to his or her parent or legal guardian and the court closely monitors the relationship for signs that family maintenance continues to be in the best interest of the child.

With reunification services, the court attempts to reunify the child with his or her parent or legal guardian, but the child and his or her parent or legal guardian are not living together. During reunification services, the minor child will live with either a designated foster parent, or a close family relative who has been assessed by the court to be able and capable to keep and care for the minor child during the reunification process. With family maintenance, the family unit is maintained during the juvenile dependency court process (i.e. the parent and/or legal guardian continues to live with the minor child).

At the six month status review hearing the court will review the progress of the reunification services (or family maintenance). The judge may change its orders depending on the success, or lack thereof, of the reunification progress. If the progress report is good, the judge may reunite the child with his or her parent or parents under family maintenance services.  If the reunification progress report is poor, the judge may order further reunification services with a further status review hearing at twelve months, order more restrictive visitation, or terminate the reunification services.

The twelve month status review hearing is held to ascertain the progress of reunification service since the six month status review hearing. If the reunification progress report is good, the juvenile dependency court may allow the child or children to return home under close supervision under family maintenance services.  If the reunification progress report is poor, the judge may either allow reunification services to continue with another status review hearing at eighteen months, or the judge may terminate the reunification services.

The eighteen month status review hearing is held to ascertain the progress of reunification services since the twelve month status review hearing. If reunification is not successful by the eighteenth month status review hearing the court will set a hearing where the issue of whether or not the parent's parental rights should be terminated, and thereafter, seek a permanent plan for the child.  permanent placement plan includes adoption, guardianship, or long-term foster care, depending on the child’s needs and circumstances.

When the child is under the age of three, the court will not allow reunification services beyond six months.  In other words, if the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) of a very young child cannot successfully reunite with his or her child, the court will not continue to give the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) more chances beyond that time period.  The court will set a permanent placement hearing 120 days from the date reunification services are terminated.  A parent may voluntarily participate in the previously ordered case plan and the court has discretion to reinstate reunification services at the permanent placement hearing.

​ Once family maintenance services is ordered and has been successful the court will dismiss the case at the next review hearing and custody will be restored back to the parent(s).  The court will make exit orders establishing joint legal or sole legal custody, and sole physical custody depending upon which parent successfully reunifies. 

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