The Juvenile Court Division of the Family Court deals with issues relating to child abuse and neglect, paternity, juvenile delinquency, truancy, child support, relinquishment and adoption. This type of case has either a “JV” (Dependency and Neglect, Truancy, Child Support or Paternity), “JD” (Juvenile Delinquency), “JR” (Relinquishment) or “JA” (Adoption) in its case number.
Dealing with a Social Services Case - Where to Begin
A Dependency and Neglect case is commonly referred to as a “D&N” case. A parent or a person who has legal custody (allocation of parental rights and responsibilities) in a D&N case has the right to an attorney. As a parent, if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer on your own, have the right to have your attorney appointed by and paid for by the state. If a D&N case has been filed concerning your family, parents are strongly encouraged to apply for a court-appointed attorney immediately prior to or after your first hearing. The caseworker, judge/magistrate, or court facilitator can direct you to an attorney application. Whether you qualify depends on your family income. If you do not qualify for a court-appointed attorney you may hire one on your own. Parents and other parties are strongly encouraged to hire a lawyer, as D&N cases are often complex and involve difficult, detailed legal matters. You may also consult with your child’s attorney, called the Guardian ad Litem, or the ‘GAL’; however, the GAL is not your attorney.
Often times, after the filing of a D&N case, emotions run high and it is difficult to know where to begin. It is important to realize that Human Services has a duty to make reasonable efforts to prevent the need for placement of your child and they also have duty to make reasonable efforts to make it possible to return your child to your care if removal from your home is necessary. Therefore, your caseworker has a duty to help you and your family.
Common questions and concerns by parents who enter the Social Services/Court system
No one understands how I feel
Most parents who become involved in a dependency and neglect case feel a combination of emotions. You are right: no one can understand your exact situation. We have all felt things like shock, anger, confusion, judgment, fear, lack of control, embarrassment, regret, and sadness. Your feelings through this case will likely ebb and flow between determination and frustration, and anger and appreciation; it is important that you talk with healthy-minded and informed support people about how you are doing emotionally.
I don’t want my family to know about this case
It is important that you and your child have as much positive support around you as possible. For many people, family is the most natural and available support system. You know better than anyone if your family is a positive and appropriate influence in your life and what support may be available for you through them. There are people available to help you and your child, as well as your extended family, to support one another, heal, and grow through this case. Keeping secrets does not help anyone in this type of situation.
Everyone is judging me
It is natural that you might feel judged in this situation; there are allegations of child abuse or neglect in your case. There are specific child protection laws in place to protect the children and families that these cases are based upon. There was concern about behaviors and circumstances that led to the filing of a D&N in court; however, there is help direction and support for you, the parent, in changing whatever it is that brought your family to the Court’s attention. This is not judgment of you, but of the situation that caused the case to be filed.
What happens in my home is my business
Many people feel that their family or personal privacy is violated in a child protection case. It is true that child protection cases are intrusive and very personal. The law states that the protection of children (by the guidelines of the Child Protection Statutes found in the Colorado Children’s Code) is of higher importance than an individual’s (or parent’s) right to privacy. It is the intention of the court and the professionals involved in the child protection system to protect children first, and maintain, heal and restore the family unit second. It is not the intention of anyone involved to be disrespectful, or any more intrusive than is needed in order to protect children and return them to safe, appropriate and stable parent(s).
I don’t understand what is going on with this case and I am
alone in figuring this out
It is normal to feel confused, isolated and overwhelmed with this process. The language itself is usually only familiar to people who work in the system regularly. Your caseworker, lawyer, and other professional support people are not only available, but want very much for you to understand what is happening with your case and your children. Some suggestions: read your court paperwork; write everything down in a notebook for your own records; highlight things that you are confused by or that don’t agree with; ask for help; accept offers of help; try to be patient with your own understanding or lack of understanding; try to be patient that as you take care of your responsibilities in a case, the process does work and your case will move forward. There are many people and agencies to assist you and your child.
If you do not have a lawyer, apply for one to be appointed to help you. Any person involved in any court proceeding is wise to consult a lawyer in order to make an educated decision about whether to hire a lawyer to represent him or her throughout a case. If you do not qualify for a court-appointed (free) lawyer, there are local lawyers who may work with you on payments for service. The GAL and caseworker can also help you with understanding some aspects of the case, although they cannot advise you regarding legal decisions and will refer you to a lawyer.
It is essential that you do your part as quickly and genuinely as possible. You must make reasonable efforts to meet the requirements of your case just as the Department must make reasonable efforts to help you and your child(ren).
The meaning of “reasonable efforts” is something that you can discuss further with your lawyer, the GAL or the judge.
No one ever gets their kids back
Return home of the child(ren) is always the initial legal goal when a child is removed from a parent’s custody. This goal remains the same unless there is a very good reason for the court to believe that the parents are not committed to taking care of their case in the time limits set by the statutes.
I know what to do to get out of the system
Your lawyer and caseworker will help you understand the specific requirements of your case. You will have a court-approved and court-ordered treatment plan. You should work with your caseworker to build a treatment plan that serves your child and your needs the best. It is very important that you understand the plan and what is expected of you. If you don’t understand you should ask the caseworker, your lawyer, the GAL or the court. The plan that you and the caseworker draft and the court approves becomes your treatment plan. You know yourself, your family, and your resources better than anyone else and this gives you the opportunity to discuss, give input, and clearly understand what you are to do for your case to be closed successfully. You will be expected by the court to complete this plan in the time frame given. If you do not agree to a term of the treatment plan, you can ask why that item is included and you can ask for it to be removed or changed; however, there may be items you don’t want to complete but are court-ordered for you to do. It is important that you complete these items too.
Court orders in a dependency and neglect case are legally binding; you must follow all of the orders of the court in your case and you risk contempt of court or even criminal charges if you break those orders.
I understand why Social Services is involved with me and my family
Child protection laws set the rules for the involvement of Social Services with any child and family. The court has to agree that the information from the Department, if true, causes a concern that a child’s well-being and safety are endangered, otherwise, the court will not allow the case to be filed. It may take some time and a lot of communication to understand why Social Services is involved with your family. Talking with your caseworker, the GAL, and your lawyer, will help you understand why the court has allowed continued involvement with you and your family. Even when there is understanding, it does not always mean that you agree and appreciate the involvement of Social Services.
My children shouldn’t see me again until I am sober. Seeing my
kids will be too hard for them (and me)
Most parents want very much to see their children to make sure that they are okay; most children also worry about their parents. There is no way around it; it is hard - for parents and for children. There are professional people available to help you, and to help you help your child through this difficult time. There is also support and direction to help you strengthen the parent-child relationships in your family.
Contact will not be allowed - or it will be interrupted - if it appears that contact is hurtful (physically or emotionally) to the child. For instance, if parents act in any manner that suggests they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or are abusive in any manner to the children or staff who are supervising a visit, visits will be suspended or the level of supervision increased. It is always the intention of the professionals and the court that the family have contact as soon as possible after the child has been removed from the home.
Research indicates that one of the best predictors of parents and children being successfully reunited is having regular contact with one another. It is reassuring to most parents and most children, regardless of ongoing issues of the case, to see each other regularly until the time when the children are returned to their parent’s custody.
Nothing good will come out of this
It is very easy and understandable to feel that things will not get better when you are involved in a dependency and neglect case. It will take time to clear things up and demonstrate that you have taken care of the concerns presented by your case. Talk with your caseworker and lawyer and other supportive people in your life and try to focus on what you can do to make things better. Many parents find comfort and strength in family, religious beliefs, counselors, or staying productively busy (work, physical activity or household tasks).
The effort you make and the example you set will be remembered by your child. You can show the power of determination, as well as show your love and commitment to your child by what you do now, regardless of what caused you to be involved with the family court.
Become familiar with common words or ‘lingo’ that is used in court and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The State Hand Book is a good place to start in understanding your rights and responsibilities, legal language, types of hearings, and who is who in your case.
Chief Judge Order: District Plan for Handling Dependency and Neglect Cases revised 11/2008
Brochure: My Voice in Court, Information for Children and Youth of all Ages
Brochure: Dependency and Neglect English En Español
Information about the Weld County Model Court Project