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Juvenile Dependency Court: Everything You Need to Know

Published at February 20, 2020 by administrator.

Raising children is hard work. We all have had parenting mishaps and failed to be the perfect parent to our kiddos. Mix in societal pressures and stress, and it is easy to get off track when it comes to parenting. Juvenile dependency cases are emotional and often a struggle for everyone involved. But there is hope and help. If you’re facing a juvenile dependency court case, learn more about everything you need to know:

Juvenile Dependency Court Overview

Understanding what the court does, and how it helps families, is essential when facing a juvenile dependency case.

Main Goal

The primary goal of the juvenile dependency court is to determine whether a parent or guardian is fit to care for a child. Before court proceedings happen, the child is removed from the home while the court determines the outcome of the case.

Possible Outcomes

In the state of Florida, there are 4 different paths that juvenile dependency court case can follow:

Child Returns Home

The court decides that it is safe for the child to return home after an investigation. Many judges choose to add support services to increase the safety of the child while in the home.

Court Hearing

A judge hears your side of the story and looks at the situation from the point of view of the child’s safety. The judge decides the next steps based on evidence and what is in the best interest of the child.

Case Plan Creation

You agree to services that will help your situation and your ability to parent your child safely. The judge will help devise a case plan for you to follow, which outlines the steps that you need to take to have your child return home safely.

Child Doesn’t Return Home

Dangerous situations, or those where the parent refuses to work on a case plan, are the paths where the child does not return home. The child usually goes into foster care and is placed for adoption.

Child Welfare Statistics

All children deserve to live in a home that is physically and emotionally safe. While the juvenile dependency court system can seem scary and judgemental, everyone is working together for the safety of your child. You’re not in this situation alone. The following statistics come from the Florida Department of Children and Families for October 2019.

  • 28,152 Hotline Reports Assessed. The child welfare hotline received 28,152 calls describing reports of unsafe children. Of these reports, about 65% met the requirements for further investigation while 35% did not. 
  • 20,481 Alleged Victims. Of those investigations, 20,481 children were involved in the reports and deemed alleged victims. Of those children, 65% of the children were reported as safe. About 27% went on for alternative assessments, while about 9% of the children were deemed to be unsafe. 
  • 1,311 Children Removed. Due to the findings of those investigations, 1,311 children were removed from their homes to out-of-home placements while the cases went to court.
  • 1,163 Children Exited System. During October 2019, 1,163 children exited their out-of-home placements during the juvenile dependency court process. 45% of them returned home to their parents, while 28% of the children were adopted. About 21% of the children received other forms of guardianship.

Juvenile Dependency Court Overview

There are many different steps and requirements involved in a juvenile dependency court case.

Attendance Is Crucial

You will be notified when the next hearing is during your juvenile dependency case. Attending all of the hearings is crucial to work towards reunification with your child. Make court appearances a priority.

Guardian ad Litem

A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is an adult appointed to represent the best interests of your child. This person is separate from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and helps speak for your child. A GAL will visit with both you and your child as well as interview other people in your life who know you well. 

Court Proceedings

There are many different court hearings that will be part of your juvenile dependency case. 

Shelter Hearing

A judge will first hear about your child’s situation within 24 hours of them being removed from your home. A shelter hearing will determine the facts surrounding the case and where your child should live during this time. Sometimes children return home at this point with services put into place to protect your child. Other times, a child lives in either a foster home or with a friend or relative. If you have a trusted relative or friend who could house your child, you must tell the judge, your lawyer, the family services counselor, or the protective investigator about that option. 

Arraignment Hearing

You must appear in court for the arraignment hearing. You will have access to the petition, which is the document that lists the allegations about why your child is at risk. It is highly recommended that you discuss the petition (the reason why you are in court) before the arraignment hearing.

Mediation

The judge may ask that you participate in mediation to discuss what needs to happen to provide a safe home for your child. These meetings are led by a mediator and do not occur in a courtroom. If an agreement is made, then the information will be sent to the judge for approval.

Adjudicatory Hearing

Also known as a trial, the adjudicatory hearing happens when the parties involved can’t find a solution during mediation. Your lawyer can help present your case if you don’t agree with the allegations in the petition. The judge will decide if the petition was proved or not. If the petition was not proved, the case could be dismissed. If the petition is proved, the case moves onto the disposition hearing.

Disposition Hearing

A case plan will be set up during the disposition hearing. The judge will look over the recommendations on how you or your home can become safe for your child to return. The case plan is a guide with steps to follow to help you and your children. 

How to Prepare for Court

One of the best ways to reunite with your child is to prepare for court proceedings.

Don’t Miss a Date

You must attend all of your court dates! Make them a priority, no matter what. Support services are available to those parents who need assistance getting to the courthouse.

Arrive Early

Leaving early will plan for traffic, trouble finding a parking spot, and extra time needed to get through security at the courthouse. Arriving early makes sure that you have enough time to get to the hearing and make a good impression. Court hearings are scheduled, and a judge will not wait for you to arrive.

Dress Professionally

You don’t need to arrive at court in a tuxedo, but it is good to make a first impression with clean clothes. Talk to your lawyer about clothing services who could donate a professional outfit for you to wear to court.

Use Courtroom Etiquette

While we know that reuniting with your child is emotional, it is vital to use proper courtroom etiquette during this process. Be respectful to everyone that you meet, and make sure to ask your lawyer questions if you don’t understand something. Yelling, outbursts, or being disrespectful can get you in trouble in a courtroom.

How a Juvenile Dependency Lawyer Can Help

You have a right to be represented by a lawyer in your juvenile dependency court case. Family lawyers know how the process works and have helped other parents work towards a safe home environment. They not only have the experience but also the knowledge about how the law works and what your rights are as a parent. These lawyers are compassionate and care about helping you reunite with your child.

While finding yourself in a juvenile dependency court case can be scary, it is essential to note that the professional staff at the Stafford Firm are here to help. Our lawyers can help walk you through the experience to ensure that you and your child have a healthy future. Consider calling one of our family lawyers today for more information.

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