If Child Protective Services (CPS) or the police believe a child is being abused or neglected, the child can be taken into protective custody. CPS or the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) may then file a dependency petition asking the court to find that a child has been abandoned, abused or neglected or that there is not a safe parent or guardian to care for the child. If the courts determine that the parent or parents cannot provide a safe and stable home environment, the State may go so far as to petition to terminate parental rights.
Having the state take away your child for even a minute can be terrifying for parents. The police or authorities may not wait for you to explain the situation or clear up a misunderstanding. They may claim you are an unfit parent. The dependency court process can be confusing and take time before you can have your child returned. You have the right to an attorney in dependency proceedings and you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible to get your child back in your care.
What is a Dependent Child?
A dependency petition is filed where there are concerns that a child has been abused or neglected and the State should take temporary custody and care of the child. Under RCW 13.34.030, a “dependent child” means any child who:
- Has been abandoned;
- Is abused or neglected by a person legally responsible for the child's care;
- Has no parent, guardian, or custodian capable of adequately caring for the child; or
- Is receiving extended foster care services.
If the state claims your child is a dependent child, you have rights as a parent. Your rights include:
- The right to have a lawyer represent you in the proceedings;
- The right to review the DSHS records regarding your child's case; and
- The right to attend all hearings regarding your child.
Dependency Court Process in Washington
Dependency proceedings generally begin with a CPS referral that a child has been abused or neglected. A caseworker is usually assigned to the case and will investigate the situation. If it is believed the child is in danger of imminent harm, the child may be removed from the home and placed in protective custody.
If your child is taken away and placed in protective custody, the law requires a Shelter Care Hearing within 72 hours. This may be the first formal hearing in a child dependency court process. During this time, the child may be placed back in the care of a parent, a family member or in foster care. The court will consider visitation between parent and child.
It is imperative to attend all hearings related to your case. You should make every effort to prioritize and attend your hearings. If you cannot attend a hearing at a certain date or time, contact the court immediately to request a different hearing time. If you do not attend a hearing, the court will make a decision without your input and without hearing your side of the story.
Shelter Care Hearing (Within 72 Hours)
At the Shelter Care Hearing, the court will determine if the child should remain in out-of-home care or can be returned to the parent. If you have an attorney, your lawyer can represent you during the hearing to argue for your child to be returned to your care or placed with a relative for the time being. Your attorney can also argue for you to have visitation with your child, as often as possible.
During the Shelter Care Hearing, the judge decides whether the child can safely be returned home and, if not, determines where to place the child while the dependency is pending. The judge also decides whether to set up a visitation schedule and, if so, what the terms of visitation will be.
30-Day Shelter Care Hearing
After 30 days, the court may have a status update hearing to determine whether the situation has changed and the child should be returned home or stay in out-of-home care.
Fact-Finding Hearing (Within 75 Days of Petition Filing)
Within 75 days of filing a dependency petition, the fact-finding hearing will allow the parent and others to testify before the court about the reported threats to the child's safety and wellbeing. This can include testimony from family members about the safety and stability of the parent and parent's home. The court will make a ruling to:
- Dismiss the dependency order and return the child for in-home care;
- Order the child to be able to return home with court oversight; or
- Rule the child is a dependent of the state.
Disposition Hearing (Within 90 Days of Petition Filing)
If the child is determined to be a dependent of the state, the court will order the parent to participate in services to address the safety threats in the home. This may include drug or substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, or educational programs.
First Dependency Review Hearing
After six months, the court will get a status update on the parents' progress during the first dependency review hearing. The court will review the parents' participation in addressing the safety issues, services provided, and consider if there are additional measures to increase the ability of the parents to provide a safe and stable home environment. The court can decide to return the child to in-home care at this point.
Permanency Planning Hearing
After about a year, the Permanency Planning Hearing will determine the permanent plan for the child, whether to keep the child living with relatives or foster care, or can be returned to the parent for in-home care.
Dependency Review Hearing
After about 18 months, and ongoing every six months thereafter, the review hearing will look at the parents' participation in parenting and care services and the level of progress. If the court determines the parents have not made sufficient progress, the State may file a petition to terminate parental rights.
Getting Your Child Back from Protective Custody
If your child is taken into protective custody, your priority is getting your child back into your care. It can be extremely frustrating to deal with the state agencies who may not be able to give you a clear answer on what to do next.
Generally, you will have to wait three days (72 hours) before the first Shelter Care Hearing. If the court determines it is safe to have your child returned to your home, you may be able to have your child returned to your care after the first Shelter Care Hearing.
At any time after the initial hearing, the court can determine that the child can safely be returned to your care. This may require making any necessary changes identified by the court, including home inspections and visitations by co-workers.
Parents may also need to go through substance abuse evaluations and treatment and pass regular drug testing. Parents may also require mental health care and treatment as a condition of having the child returned to their custody.
The Best Interests of the Child
Dependency hearings are intended to protect the best interests of the child. This includes the child's right to conditions of basic nurture, health, and safety. When there is a conflict between the best interests of the child and the legal rights of the parent, the rights and safety of the child will be prioritized.
Seattle Dependency Proceeding Lawyer
With the safety of your child and your parental rights at stake, you deserve to have your case handled by a lawyer who understands the dependency hearing process and has helped other parents get their children back after they were taken away by the state.
At Burke Brown Attorneys, PLLC, we have helped parents and family members challenge CPS to get their children safely and swiftly returned to their loving families. Call us today at (206) 933-2414 or contact us online.