Entry into the Dependency Court System

The removal of a child from a home can be on a voluntary, cooperative basis or, as often occurs, met with great resistance from the family. Although ideally a contested removal should occur after a court hearing, the circumstances usually require immediate action by the county’s children and youth agency before a preliminary protective hearing can be arranged.

There are several ways in which a child may enter care. The primary means of entry include:

  1. Standard Dependency Petition
  2. Medical or Police Protective Custody/ Oral order
  3. Emergency Shelter Care Applications

In a Standard Dependency Petition, the petition is typically filed by the agency, but may be filed by others through application. A standard dependency petition is typically done on a non-emergency basis and will proceed directly to adjudication and disposition.

In cases where medical or police protective custody is necessary, the procedure used in many counties is for the caseworker or supervisor with the agency to telephone a judge to request a verbal order. A police officer at the scene may also request confirmation over the phone as to the verbal order.

Lastly, a case may come into the system through an Emergency Shelter Care (ESC) Application, which is an emergency situation by which the agency takes protective custody of a child. The ESC application may also be orally made to the judge. Once the child is removed from the house, a shelter care hearing must be conducted by a judge or a court-appointed hearing officer within 72 hours of taking custody. The 72 hour rule only applies to the Shelter Care Hearing 42 Pa. C.S.A. 6332 (Juvenile Act); 23 Pa. C.S. 6315(d) (CPSL).

Many cases can avoid entry into the court system if an emphasis is placed on the front-loading of services. Providing services prior to reaching the point where court action is necessary is beneficial to all parties involved. This early intervention approach is commonly based on efforts of System Professionals outside of the county agency.