Parents have a fundamental right to parent their children. When parents willingly chose to not provide or are incapable of providing proper and effective parental care and control such as providing basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter, a juvenile dependency case may open up. This will also pertain to if parents are abusive or neglectful.
Juvenile Dependency cases begin when a petition is filed by the Department of Children and Family Services stating that there is actual or immediate danger to a child. Until a child grows up, he or she is dependent on adults for protection. If parents can’t or won’t take that responsibility, the court will step in and the child may become “dependent: on the court for safeguarding. When this happens, the child is sent to either relatives or a foster care family for protection.
The goal of juvenile dependency proceedings is to protect children and preserve or reunify families whenever possible. Initially, the court must determine whether the allegations are true and whether the child should be removed from the home. When it is not in the child’s best interest to return the child to his or her parents, the goal is provide permanent placement.
If the court decides the child will not be returned home, a hearing must take place within four months to determine next steps. At that hearing, the court has only three choices:
- to terminate the parental rights and order the child placed for adoption;
- to appoint a legal guardian for the child or
- to place the child in long-term foster care.
If you’re caught in the middle of a juvenile dependency case, contact an experienced Santa Barbara family law lawyer for help.