When a family becomes the subject of a juvenile dependency investigation, it can be an overwhelming experience. The dependency court process has many stages and numerous parties and participants who are involved at each stage. For parents who are unfamiliar with the process, it can be a very confusing and scary ordeal. The fear becomes even more intense when a child has been removed from the home.
This article is the first of a series entitled “A Parent’s Journey Through the Dependency Court”. By providing some basic information about the Juvenile Dependency Court and the responsibilities of those who are tasked to perform this work, we hope to help parents better manage the process and reduce the amount of time that they and their children spend in the system.
Part One: The Child Protective Investigator
The dependency process begins with a report to the child abuse hotline alleging child abuse, abandonment, or neglect. After receiving the report, a child protective investigator (CPI) (or in some jurisdictions, a county sheriff) visits the child's home to determine whether or not the child's living environment is unsafe. If the CPI determines that the child’s living conditions are unsafe, the CPI is required by law to remove the child from the home. In this instance, every effort will be made to place the child with a familiar relative or non-relative who has successfully passed a background check, including criminal and abuse history.
The investigator then obtains and reviews all relevant documentation and interviews witnesses, which may include, neighbors, school counselors, teachers, medical providers, friends and siblings of the subject child, etc. To ensure that there is no undue influence on the witnesses, it is important that these interviews are conducted independently of each other and outside the presence of the accused parent or caregiver. As part of the investigation, the CPI must also interview the accused parent/caregiver to determine if there is a reasonable explanation for the allegations.
At the conclusion of the investigation, the CPI must decide whether to remove the child, leave the child in the home, and/or offer services to the family. If the child must be removed, it is in the child’s best interest for the parent to cooperate to the extent possible which includes providing any clothes, medication, toys, or other items that could provide comfort to the child. When a frustrated parent refuses to provide these essentials, it only hurts the child and makes adjusting to their new surroundings more difficult.
When the CPI determines that a child can safely remain in the home, the CPI may offer to refer the family for support services. Parents are encouraged to accept such services, the goal of which is to strengthen the family in an area where it is needed. This can reduce the possibility of future removal.
Additional Parent Tips:
Parents should provide a reliable means of contact (eg., updated telephone/cellular numbers and email addresses) so that they can be reached if services or additional information is needed for their child(ren).
Although it is difficult for the parents, it is important to stay engaged in the co-parenting (Quality Parenting Initiative) process to maintain that connection with their child(ren) Remember this is a temporary process, not a permanent one and the primary permanency goal is reunification.
Parents should avoid speaking ill of each other while involved in the dependency process. Parents should never engage in parental alienation where one parent intentionally portrays to the child a negative image of the other parent. The purpose of this strategy is to damage the child’s relationship with the other parent in the hope of achieving a more favorable outcome. Courts frown upon such behavior because children need the love and support of both parents.
Parents should provide the names and addresses of relatives or close friends of the family who might be willing to provide temporary housing for the child(ren). It is in the child(ren)’s best interest to remain in familiar surroundings with family and friends who can support them throughout the dependency process.
Parents should provide as much information as possible on how to locate an absent parent. The court is required by law to notify all parents of the dependency proceeding. When parents are unavailable, a diligent search must commence and this process can sometimes delay the resolution of the case.