Parents go to court for many reasons. If you are involved with Children and Youth Services and you are going to court, a caseworker or other concerned individual thinks that the court needs to make sure that your children are cared for and safe.
This is called being “under the court’s supervision.” If the judge feels that your children need to be under the court’s supervision, he or she will adjudicate your children dependent. Adjudication is a legal word for a formal decision. Dependent means that the children are now under the supervision of the court.
So how does this all start? It all starts with a hearing. If a caseworker felt that your children were not safe, and a judge agreed and gave permission, the caseworker may have removed your children. It is the caseworker’s job to place them somewhere safe. If this is what happened, the first hearing that you may go to is called a shelter hearing. At this hearing, the judge or hearing officer has to decide if the situation that caused the children to be removed continues or if your children should continue to remain outside of your care and if there should be another hearing. The next hearing is usually called an adjudication or petition hearing.
Sometimes children who are not in any immediate danger are not removed from home. However, a caseworker or other concerned individual still believes the family needs to be under the supervision of the court. In these cases, a petition may be filed asking the court for a hearing. A judge will decide if supervision is required. This is the adjudication or petition hearing. An adjudication hearing is held whether the children were removed or whether they stayed with their parents. At this hearing, the judge decides whether or not supervision is required and if they decide it is, where the child should live and what services are needed to help make things better. This last part is called the “disposition.
Even if children have not been removed from the home, they can still be placed under the supervision of the court.
Once this has happened, a judge or juvenile court officer will schedule hearings to see what progress is being made to fix the problems that brought everyone into court. These hearings are called review hearings, but some courts call them status hearings or merit hearings. The judge or juvenile court hearing officer will also schedule a permanency review hearing. At the permanency hearing, the judge also checks to see if the permanency goal is still the right one. You can read more about permanency options elsewhere in this section.
If problems persist, a judge will need to consider taking away the parents rights to “parent” their child. The government gives parents, courts and child welfare agencies a time limit to ensure a child is safe at home. Once that time has passed, a caseworker generally files a petition asking the court to terminate parental rights. Another hearing is held, and a judge decides whether or not the parent can continue to legally be the parent. This is called an involuntary termination of parental rights. Involuntary means it wasn’t the parents’ decision, but the decision of the court. Parents who recognize they can’t be the best parent for their children can also ask the court to end their rights. This is called a voluntary termination of parental rights. This is a very serious decision not taken without great care.
A Parents Guide to Understanding Pennsylvania’s Dependency Process: A Supreme Court Justice, Court of Common Pleas Judges, Hearing Officer, Attorney’s and Parents share information about the dependency process in Pennsylvania. Click here to view the video.