Juvenile dependency cases occur where there is evidence of an unfit home environment for children. The primary objective is to always protect the children; as such, the Children and Youth Services (CYS) have a range of services they offer to help parents and guardians improve their home environment. The last thing we want is for you and your children to be separated.
Facing the prospect of an agency taking custody of your children can be terrifying. Many social services agencies exist to help you and your family, though.
The only way that CYS can take your children without your consent is with a court order that finds that your children are “dependent” because they have been:
To physically take custody, the court must also find that removal from the home is necessary for the children’s safety and well-being; otherwise, if it makes one of the above findings, the court can grant CYS legal custody over the children but allow the children to remain in the home.
Without this court order, you do not have to consent to letting CYS remove your children. However, accepting the services they offer can be beneficial to you and your family. These services may help you avoid the extensive time, difficulties and stress of dealing with Juvenile Court, and they can help you and your children.
CYS would have a much more difficult time if they attempted to terminate your parental rights. The amount of required evidence is extensive, as they would have to prove the following:
Termination of parental rights petitions are filed in Orphans’ Court. In Juvenile Court dependency cases, before that occurs, the court must find that reunification is no longer the primary goal and that adoption is now the goal. After at least 15 months have passed in a Juvenile Court case, CYS must make a “permanency” recommendation to the court – that is, whether to recommend a final order of reunification or adoption.
In the specific case of an investigation into suspected abuse, a caseworker will investigate and make a determination within 30 days. There are three possible findings, where abuse is listed as:
If the finding is “indicated,” you can appeal to Department of Human Services’ Bureau of Hearings and Appeals. You should closely review all paperwork and contact us for advice.
If CYS were to take your children, stay calm and try to work closely with your CYS caseworker. Follow reasonable recommendations for services and cooperate with those services. Showing your willingness to comply and work towards a solution will go a long way in resolving your case.
Meanwhile, make sure you are closely following the court’s requirements. You will have multiple opportunities to present your case to the court about why your children should be returned to you. Finally, remain in close contact with your juvenile dependency lawyer and follow their advice.
HOW WE CAN HELP
In Fayette, Greene and Washington Counties, our juvenile dependency lawyers will represent one parent throughout Juvenile Court proceedings. In Somerset County, the court appoints outside attorneys to represent parents in Juvenile Court. If you have questions about CYS involvement where no Juvenile Court action is pending, you can call our local office in the county where the children live for telephone advice.
THE COUNTY COURT PROCESS
In each county, Juvenile Court actions are initiated by petition of CYS for “adjudication” of dependency. If the children “adjudicated” dependent by the court, review hearings are scheduled until the case is closed. If CYS requests the removal of children from your home at the outset of or during a Juvenile Court case, they request a shelter hearing before the Master or Judge.
Juvenile Court hearings all occur before a Judge. For local rules, go to www.co.fayette.pa.us.
Juvenile Court hearings all occur before a Judge. For local rules, go to www.co.greene.pa.us.
Juvenile Court hearings all occur before a Judge. For local rules, go to www.co.somerset.pa.us.
Juvenile Court hearings usually occur before a Master, unless a parent demands a hearing before the Judge, in which case they are heard by the Juvenile Court Judge. For local rules, go to www.washingtoncourts.us.
The juvenile dependency law is found at 42 Pa.C.S. Chapter 63. Child Protective Services law is found at 23 Pa.C.S. 23. Termination of parental rights law is found at 23 Pa.C.S. Chapter 25. For more online information, go to www.palawhelp.org.