Family Law Legal Topics

Juvenile Dependency Primer

Juvenile dependency practice is a relatively recent legal development, both nationally and in California. But as society’s awareness of child abuse has grown, so has the public social services system responsible for receiving child abuse reports, investigating them, and providing services to the children and families who need them. Most attorneys are completely unaware of how the dependency system operates, so here’s a short primer on California’s dependency system.

California’s dependency system has the dual purpose of  ensuring child safety while preserving family. These goals require the recognition and accommodation of fundamental rights of children and their parents, i.e., children have a fundamental interest in belonging to a family unit, as well as the right to be safe from abuse and neglect and to have a stable, permanent placement; parents have the essential and basic right to the care, custody, management, and companionship of their children.

The responsibility for providing child welfare services to the children and families who need them lies with specialized entities within each county welfare department. There are many ways for a possibly abused or neglected child to come to the department’s attention. For example:

  • A neighbor might call the department and make an anonymous report. See Pen C §11166(g).
  • A person mandated by law to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect might call the department. See Pen C §§11165.7, 11166.
  • A person might call the department to (1) request that a social worker investigate a particular child’s circumstances and (2) file a petition to make the child a dependent of the juvenile court. See Welf & I C §329.
  • A law enforcement agency might make a report or refer a child to the department. See Pen C §11165.9.
  • A judge in a marital dissolution case might refer a child to welfare services based on allegations and accusations made by the parents that raise concerns about the child’s welfare. See In re H.E. (2008) 169 CA4th 710, 712, 86 CR3d 820.

When a child comes to the department’s attention, it’s the social worker who generally has the responsibility for investigating whether to offer the family child welfare services and whether to start dependency proceedings. See Welf & I C §328.

While investigating the child’s circumstances, the social worker assesses the risk to the child of remaining in the home, the need for child welfare services to the child or family to help keep them together, and whether, if the social worker thinks the child must be removed from the home, services can be provided that will enable the child and family to reunite safely within the statutory timeframe.

When you encounter a juvenile dependency issue in your practice, you need to have CEB’s California Juvenile Dependency Practice by your side for in-depth coverage of all the issues relating to California dependency law.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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