Juvenile Dependency Court is the branch of the Superior Court which hears cases involving neglected and/or abused children less than eighteen years of age.
A Juvenile Court Dependency Hearing may begin with children being removed from their parents and placed in protective custody. The law allows law enforcement to detain children up to 72 hours for their protection if the officer believes there is a risk of neglect or abuse. Children are usually taken to the Children’s Receiving Home. When children are taken into protective custody, the officer or social worker will immediately attempt to notify the parent(s) or guardian(s). If the children are not in immediate danger of neglect or abuse, and are living with a parent, relative, or friend, they may be allowed to remain there pending the court proceedings.
When the children are placed in protective custody and taken from the home, there must be an investigation to decide whether the children can be safely returned to the home from which they were taken. The first investigation is made by the social worker in the Intake Unit of the Department of Social Services.
If the social worker decides that the children were not significantly at risk for abuse or neglect, the children can be released to the parent(s). No court action is taken; however, the parent(s) may be requested to sign a Family Maintenance Agreement, agreeing to certain conditions to keep the children in the home. If the parent(s) abide by the Agreement for six months, no further action will be taken. If there is another report of neglect or abuse of the children, or the parent(s) fail to abide by the Agreement, the children can be removed from the home again, and a Petition may be filed with the Juvenile Court.
If the social worker decides the children are at risk, the children will remain out of the home pending the court hearing. The Department of Health and Human Services must file a Petition with the Juvenile Court within 48 hours. The Petition includes necessary legal information and a statement telling why a Dependency proceeding is considered necessary for the safety of the children. In response to the Petition, a Detention Hearing is held before a Judge or Referee the next court day after the Petition is filed.
In the event the children were removed from the home, the first hearing will be an Initial Hearing Detention. If the children were not removed, the first hearing is called an Initial Hearing Non-Detention. Both hearings advise parties of the allegations, appoint counsel (if necessary), and set a future hearing. However, the detention hearing addresses the additional element regarding the custody status of the children pending the jurisdiction hearing.
At the first hearing, the receptionist will provide the parents with the petition and report upon their arrival at court. The petition and report have been provided to the parents' attorney; if a private attorney has been retained a copy of the petition filed by the Department of Health and Human Services will be provided to the attorney.
If the parents do not have an attorney, the judge or referee will ask if they want an attorney to represent them. If the parents answer yes, the court will appoint either an attorney from Parent Advocates of Sacramento, Dependency Associates of Sacramento, or from a panel of private attorneys. Usually a separate attorney represents the child. In the case of conflict of interests, private counsel can be appointed.
If the children are not released to the parents, they will remain detained in their current placement. The court investigator will meet with the parents, investigate the facts of the case, and prepare a report for the court hearing. The report will include an evaluation of the case, a reunification/service plan and recommendations to the court regarding placement of the children. The court investigator will also arrange visits, if court approved, between the parents and the children, and coordinate services for the parents and the children that may include referrals to parenting classes, counseling, drug and/or alcohol testing, or other services deemed appropriate.
It is important for the parents to cooperate with both their attorney(s) and the court investigator. If the parents make a positive effort to participate in the services offered by the court investigator, the court will take this into consideration in deciding whether to return the children.
The proceeding at which the Court determines whether allegations of abuse or neglect concerning a child are sustained by the evidence and if so, are legally sufficient to support state intervention on behalf of the child, is called a Jurisdictional Hearing. This hearing provides the basis for state intervention into a family. The disposition hearing addresses where the child will live and identifies the services to be offered to the child and the parent(s).
The Reunification/Service Plan or Case Plan tells the parent(s) what s/he needs to do to resolve the problems that brought the children’s case before the Court. If the children are returned to the parent(s) or placed with a relative, the parent(s) will be ordered to comply with this plan. This plan may include parenting classes, counseling, visitation requirements, and drug/alcohol counseling.
The Court is required to review the status of each dependent child regularly. These Review Hearings are held every six months. Prior to each review, the supervising social worker will prepare a report and discuss the recommendation with the parent(s). This report describes the services offered/provided to the parent(s) to correct the problems which resulted in the child becoming a dependent of the Juvenile Court. It also discusses the parents’ progress and cooperation in these services. If the child is with the parents, it reports on the continuing necessity of supervision. If the child is out of the home, it reports on whether the child can be returned to the parents or on the development of an alternative permanent plan if the child cannot be returned. If the report indicates that the family problems are resolved, the Court may terminate dependency at this time. If problems remain which require the help of the Department of Health and Human Services, dependency will continue. Such reviews occur as long as the child remains a dependent.
If the child was removed from the parent(s), placed in foster care, and the Court determines at a second six-month review that reunification of child and parent is not likely, the Court will attempt to find a permanent home for the child. This may take the form of freeing the child for adoption or guardianship or long-term foster placement.
The purposes of the Juvenile Justice Court are: to protect, to give guidance, and to punish children who commit delinquent acts, and to protect the community.
If your child becomes a ward of the Juvenile Justice Court, the court will make orders for you and your child so that your child and the community will be protected.
Your child may be allowed to live in your home under court supervision; or
Your child may be placed outside of your home in an unlocked or locked facility, depending upon your child's age, the seriousness of the offense, and your child's history of delinquency.
The petition and other papers you may have received say your child is accused of having done certain delinquent acts. The petition does not prove anything, but it is important for you to know what your child is accused of having done. You have the right to receive a copy of the petition.
Your child was most likely taken to the Sacramento County Youth Detention Facility at 9601 Kiefer Boulevard, Sacramento, CA 95827 (cross street is Bradshaw Road).
One of the following could occur:
- The arresting officer may release your child back to your custody.
- Your child may be referred to a community agency providing shelter, care, diversion, or counseling.
- Your child may be required to return to the police station rather than to the probation department (this is sometimes referred to as cited back).
- You and your child may be given a Notice to Appear, telling you what you and your child must do and when you must do it.
- Your child could be detained in the Youth Detention Facility. Your child will be able to make two telephone calls no later than one hour after arrest. If the Probation Intake Officer is going to question your child about what happened, the officer must tell your child that he or she has the right to remain silent, that anything that your child says will be used against him or her, that he or she has a right to be represented by an attorney, and that the court will appoint an attorney if your child cannot afford one. If your child is detained, the officer must take immediate steps to notify you.
The decision to detain your child is made by Probation Intake and not the arresting officer. The Probation Officer may let your child go home without asking the district attorney to file a petition. Or, your child may go home and the probation officer will refer the case to the district attorney who will decide whether or not to file a petition. In this instance, restrictions will be placed on your child as a condition of being allowed to go home. If your child does not return home, the law requires that a petition be filed very quickly, usually within 48 hours from the time the child is taken into custody by the arresting officer. There will be a court hearing, called a Detention Hearing, the next day that the court is in session. The courts are closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
YES. Your child has a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney for your child, the court will appoint an attorney to represent him or her.
No, not usually. But please note, if your child has an attorney, the attorney represents your child and not you.
You and your child will be required to attend all hearings, unless your appearance is specifically waived by your child's attorney. The hearings include:
- Detention Hearing or Arraignment Hearing: if your child is detained in the Youth Detention Facility for more than 48 hours, there will be a detention hearing in no more than 72 hours, counting only court business days. The purpose of the detention hearing is for the judge to decide if your child should go home before the next hearing, appoint an attorney if you cannot afford one, and to read the charges against your child. If your child was arrested, but never detained in the Youth Detention Facility, you will receive notice of an arraignment hearing. The purpose of the arraignment hearing is to appoint an attorney for your child if you can not afford one and to read the petition containing the charges against your child.
- Pre-trial Hearing: a pre-trial hearing will occur the day before the trial to allow the parties in the matter to either resolve the case or to advise the court that they are ready to proceed to trial.
- Jurisdiction Hearing: at the jurisdiction hearing, the judge will decide whether or not your child committed the offense.
- Disposition Hearing: a disposition hearing is equivalent to a sentencing hearing in adult court. If the judge rules that your child committed the offense, then at the disposition hearing the judge will decide what orders should be made about your child. If the judge rules that your child did not commit the offense, there is no disposition hearing. Sometimes the disposition hearing is held right after the jurisdiction hearing, on the same day, otherwise, it is held 10 days after the jurisdiction hearing.
In addition to the above hearings, you and your child may be required to attend any of the following hearings:
- Early Resolution Hearing: a court appearance is scheduled to try to resolve the matter prior to trial.
- Hearings on Motions: there may be court appearances for the court to hear additional matters that come up before the matter is resolved.
- Transfer Hearing: under Welfare and Institutions Code section 707, depending on the age of your child and the nature of the charged offense, the district attorney may ask the juvenile court to make a decision on whether your child should be tried as an adult or not. At the transfer hearing, the judge will decide whether your child will be tried in adult court or in juvenile court.
- Review Hearings: in some cases, the law or the court may set hearings to review your child's progress and performance under probation supervision.
- Restitution Hearing: if the court so orders, you and your child may have to pay restitution to the victim. Restitution is money to pay for the victim's losses caused by your child's illegal conduct. Examples of restitution might include the value of stolen or damaged property, medical expenses, and lost wages.