Part II: A Guide to Juvenile Dependence Proceedings

In Part I of this post, I gave a general description of the legal process following a child’s removal from the home due to allegations of abuse or neglect.  If you are caring for a child who is a dependent of the court, then Part II of this post is for you, as it details the kinds of information that may be helpful to provide the court during a Six-Month Review or Permanency hearing.

As the primary care-giver for a child during what is usually a very upsetting and disruptive time in a child’s life, you are likely to have gained insight as to the child’s development and needs.  However, the way you communicate this information to the court is perhaps equally as valuable as what you communicate, because this can make your insight more or less likely to be considered.  Following are some recommendations for caregivers who are either writing reports for the court’s consideration or who plan on attending a hearing.

How to provide information:

  1. Be brief but accurate.  Whether you are providing information in writing or verbally by attending the hearing, think through the specific information you want to provide and the most succinct way to communicate it.
  2. Describe behavior, not intention or meaning.  Although you may be right that the child in your care is expressing his or her anxiety through stomachaches, the court will not necessarily find you qualified to draw a conclusion about the cause of the stomachaches.  Rather, it would be more compelling to report the frequency and severity of the stomachaches to the court, as well as a summary of the medical reports from the child’s pediatrician who found no organic cause for the stomachaches.
  3. Be specific.  Judges value specificity because it gives credibility to the report.  It is much more helpful to the court if you can say “Since being placed with me, the child’s GPA has improved from 2.0 to 3.5” rather than the more general (and less helpful) “Since being placed with me, the child has been doing a lot better in school.”  Because your judgment of “a lot better” may be different than the Judge’s, it helps to give specific, measurable or observable information.

What information to provide:

  1. Medical & Dental information. Bring a typed list of the child’s doctor visits and/or hospitalizations since the last hearing, as well as a list of any medication the child is taking (and dosages).  The court may also appreciate hearing about any developmental lags you have observed.
  2. Academic & Educational information. Bring a record of any conferences you have attended and the purpose and results of the meeting, as well as any relevant Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), AB3632 reports, and progress reports.  Do your best to clearly answer the question, “Is this child performing at grade level?”
  3. Behavioral information. Give a brief description of how the child behave’s in your home, as well as any services the child is receiving to address behavioral problems (frequency and type of service, as well as the child’s response to intervention).
  4. Visitation information. If the child in your care has been visiting with his or her birth family, provide the dates, times, and lengths of the visits.  If you supervised the visits, you can also provide a brief description of the behaviors you observed, but be careful not to offer an interpretation of judgment about the behaviors.  For instance, you may have observed that the child cried throughout the 30 minute visit, and this would be helpful to report; however, it is less helpful (and less credible!) for you to say that the child did not want to visit with the biological family member.
  5. Professional Contact information. Keep and provide detailed records of all contact (both in person and telephone) that you have had with the following professional service providers: social workers, attorney, and Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
  6. Recommendations. Here is where your opinion can be expressed.  You can offer recommendations for what types of services you believe would benefit the child and why.  Although many caregivers also want to offer a recommendation for or against re-unification, this decision is ultimately made by the judge.  As a caregiver, keep your recommendations to services you would like the child to receive rather than recommendations about placement.
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