Juvenile Dependency (CYS)

Can CYS (Children and Youth Services) take custody of my children?

Without your consent, CYS can only take custody of your children after a court order finds that your children are “dependent” because the children have been:

  • without proper parental care or control, including drug or alcohol use placing the children at risk.
  • placed in custodial care in violation of law.
  • abandoned by or without parents or other custodians.
  • not complying with school attendance or truancy laws.
  • so disobedient that the parents or custodians lack control.
  • found to have committed a crime, under 10 years of age (at 10-18, it would be a delinquent act).
  • at any risk, and the parent’s rights to other children were involuntarily terminated within 3 years.

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.

Do I have to cooperate with CYS?

You are not generally required to cooperate with CYS unless a court orders you to do so; however, Children and Youth Services is a social services agency, and you may wish to accept the services offered for the benefit of you and your family.  Sometimes, cooperating with CYS can both provide services to your family and avoid the extensive time, difficulties and anxiety associated with Juvenile Court.

What can and should I do if CYS takes custody of my children?

You will have the opportunity to be heard by the court about why your children should be returned to you, both at an immediate Juvenile Court hearing, and at later review hearings, if needed.  You must always comply with court orders, so you should thoroughly and carefully review each court order to make sure that you are following the court’s requirements.  Additionally, you should stay in continuous contact with your CYS caseworker about his or her recommendations for services and cooperate, where reasonable and possible, with recommended services.  Finally, you should remain in contact with your attorney and strongly consider following his or her advice.

Can CYS ask for my parental rights to be terminated?

CYS can petition for your parental rights to be terminated if it can prove the following:

  1. another family is ready and able to adopt;
  2. termination of your parental rights will best serve the children’s needs and promote the children’s welfare; and
  3. you:
    • have not attempted to contact or parent the children for at least six months;
    • have demonstrated abuse, neglect, refusal or incapability to parent, and that cannot or will not be fixed;
    • have been unable to be found by CYS after at least 3 months of diligent searching for you;
    • have remained unlikely to fix conditions that led to placement of your children after at least a 6 month trial period;
    • have not had custody or progress towards custody after 12 months;
    • have been convicted of homicide, serious assault or an attempt or conspiracy to commit either; or
    • have committed sexual abuse, as determined by a court.

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 now is 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.

What will happen if CYS investigates for suspected child abuse?

A caseworker will investigate whether abuse occurred and generally make a determination within 30 days.  CYS will determine whether abuse is “indicated,” “founded” or “unfounded.”  “Indicated” means that it has found substantial evidence of child abuse, while “founded” means that a court has found abuse in a criminal, dependency or Protection From Abuse action.  All other determinations are “unfounded.”  If CYS has made an “indicated” finding, you can appeal to the Department of Human Services’ Bureau of Hearings and Appeals and should thoroughly and carefully review any such paperwork and contact us for advice.

How can legal aid help?

In Fayette, Greene and Washington Counties, legal aid will represent one parent throughout Juvenile Court proceedings.  In Somerset County, the court appoints attorneys outside of legal aid to represent parents in Juvenile Court.  If you have questions about CYS involvement where no Juvenile Court action is pending, you can call the Legal Aid office in the county where the children live for telephone advice.

What is my county court process?

In each county, Juvenile Court actions are initiated by petition of CYS for “adjudication” of dependency.  If the children are found by the court, i.e. “adjudicated” dependent, 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.

Fayette County: Juvenile Court hearings all occur before a Judge.
For local rules, go to www.co.fayette.pa.us.

Greene County: Juvenile Court hearings all occur before a Judge.|
For local rules, go to www.co.greene.pa.us.

Somerset County: Juvenile Court hearings all occur before a Judge.
For local rules, go to www.co.somerset.pa.us.

Washington County: 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.