When a hotline for child abuse or neglect is made, an investigator from the Department of Social Services – Children’s Division begins an investigation into the allegations of the hotline. The investigator makes a determination as to whether the children need to be taken into emergency protective custody. The investigator prepares an affidavit and sends it to the local Juvenile Office. The Juvenile Office presents the Juvenile Judge with the affidavit and requests emergency protective custody of the children. If the Judge grants emergency protective custody, the court schedules a Protective Custody Hearing within 72 hours of the children coming into care. At this hearing the Judge determines if there is enough evidence to cause the children to remain in protective custody. If the Judge orders for the children to remain in custody, a trial will be scheduled. The trial must be held within 60 days of the children coming into care. At trial evidence is introduced regarding the allegations of abuse or neglect. The parent has the right to call witnesses and introduce evidence in his or her defense. The Juvenile Judge must determine if the evidence of abuse or neglect meets the clear cogent and convincing evidence standard of proof. If it does, the Judge orders the children to remain in the legal and physical custody of the Children’s Division. The Judge will order a treatment plan for the parents, also.
When a child is taken into custody by the Children’s Division, the agency looks for suitable family members to place the children. A grandparent has the right to intervene in the case. At the Protective Custody Hearing the Judge may order Children’s Division to investigate certain family members who request placement of the child.
Each time a child is taken in to Children’s Division’s custody, the Judge appoints a Guardian ad Litem to the child. The Guardian ad Litem is an attorney that represents the child’s best interests in court. The Guardian ad Litem makes a recommendation to the court as to what he/she feels is in the best interest of the child.
The Adoption and Safe Families Act provides the Juvenile Court with a timeline for each case. The parents have one year to complete services, and during that one year the goal of the Court is to reunify the child with the natural parents. During the year, hearings will be held every ninety (90) to one-hundred twenty (120) days to make determinations of the parents’ progress in their treatment plan. The Adoption and Safe Families Act states that after one year, the Court must decide a permanent plan for the child. A permanent plan can include continued work towards reunification, guardianship, termination of parental rights and adoption, or another planned permanent living arrangement.
As stated above, the Judge orders a treatment plan for the parents. This treatment plan is designed to help the parent fix any problems that led to the child being abused or neglected. For instance, a child may come into Children’s Division’s custody due to the parent’s use of illegal drugs. The parent’s treatment plan may require the parent to have a drug and alcohol assessment to determine the extent of the drug problem. The parent may be required to undergo random drug screens.
The parent has a right to an attorney at any time in this process. If the parent is indigent, the court may appoint an attorney to represent him or her. The parent has the right to hire an attorney if one cannot be appointed for him/her. The attorney will guide the parent through the Juvenile court process.