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Los Angeles County, CA November 2, 2010 Election
Smart Voter

What is the Dependency Court?

By Randy Hammock

Candidate for Judge of the Superior Court; County of Los Angeles; Office 28

This information is provided by the candidate
The Dependency Court system's primary mission is to ensure that children are safe from abuse (physical, emotional and sexual) and neglect. Whenever possible the Court strives to preserve and strengthen families so children can be raised safely in their own homes. When this is not possible the Court orders the provision of a nurturing temporary foster home and supervises the care. The Court's focus then shifts to ensuring that children receive a permanent home in a timely fashion, either through reunification with their rehabilitated parents or through adoption, legal guardianship or a long term foster care commitment.

The most common court action resulting from a report of child abuse occurs in the Dependency Court. The incidents of abuse and neglect which are assessed as actually or imminently dangerous to children are referred to this Court. This legal process is intended to protect children through the use of the Court's authority. The process is initiated by the filing of a petition by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) under Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) section 300.

During the pendency of a dependency court proceeding, a child may be detained or may remain in the custody of a parent. The child's situation may be serious enough to warrant court action, but not pose immediate danger to the child. In such a case the child can remain safely at home while an investigation and the court hearings proceed. If the safety of the child cannot be assured at home, the child can be removed from the parents' custody and placed in protective custody.

Following the filing of a WIC 300 petition and the detention/arraignment hearing, the Court conducts addition hearings to determine whether the allegations are true, (the adjudication), and if true, whether Dependency Court jurisdiction is necessary.

At the disposition hearing, the Court decides whether the child may remain safely in the parents' home under DCFS supervision (home of parent order) or must be suitably placed. The family may be ordered to participate in activities to help the family overcome the problems which brought the family before the Court. DCFS is ordered to provide services referred to as "family maintenance services" if the child remains at home or "family reunification services" if the child is placed out of the home.

Any case under the jurisdiction of the Court must be reviewed by the Court at least every six months until jurisdiction is terminated. If the child is placed out of the home, the Court conducts a hearing to establish a permanent placement plan within 12 months. The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether or not the child can be returned home or if there is a substantial probability that the child can be returned with an additional six months of reunification services. If so, the Court will continue the permanent placement hearing no more than six months in the future, absent certain circumstances. If it is determined that the child cannot be returned to the parent, the Court must decide on the most stable permanent place for the child. The Court may consider terminating parental rights and proceed to adoption or, without terminating parental rights, proceed to guardianship or long term foster care.

All of the Court's decisions are made solely by the judicial officer assigned to that case, without a jury. Each party is represented by an attorney, typically assigned by the Court.

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