Overview of Child Welfare

Adapted from the County of Santa Clara’s A Parent’s Guide to Child Welfare Services & Dependency Court Proceedings In Santa Clara County revised 10/03. Contact: Social Services Agency, Department of Family and Children’s Services, 373 W. Julian Ave., San Jose, CA 95110.

There is reason to believe that the child has been, or is in danger of being, neglected or abused at home.

The law requires that we move to protect a child whenever it appears that:

  • A child is not receiving adequate care or supervision.
  • A child is not being provided with adequate food, shelter, or other basic needs.
  • A child is being neglected to the point his/her safety and development is in question. A child is being treated cruelly or abused physically or emotionally by someone living in the home.
  • Someone in the home has engaged in sexual behavior with a child.
  • Temporary Custody – When a child is reported to be in danger, a social worker or police officer will respond to the location of the child to assess the safety of the child(ren). If the child is assessed to be in an immediate unsafe situation, the child will be taken into temporary “protective custody”, usually by the police officer and transported to the Children’s Shelter Care System.

The child may not be taken into temporary custody if the assessment shows that the child may remain at home if voluntary child and family services are provided to ensure the child’s safety.

After the child has been taken into temporary custody, the Department may offer services to the parents on a voluntary basis, or the court could order them to participate in services which are recommended by the Department.

The child is placed in temporary custody and is staying where he or she is safe. The Social Worker will tell the parents where their child is staying, unless there is reason to believe that it will be dangerous to the child for them to know where he or she is.

The child may be:

• In the Santa Clara County Children’s Shelter;

OR

• In a licensed foster home;

OR

• In a hospital getting medical care.

Unless there is reason to be concerned for the child’s safety, arrangements to visit can be made through the family’s Social Worker.

Sometimes it is necessary to monitor visits between children and their parents. If this is the case, the Social Worker will arrange a visit with someone else present. This monitored visit may be at Clover House, the County’s family visitation center.

If the child is in the Children’s Shelter and the parents have permission to visit, they must arrange visiting with Shelter staff. The social worker will give the Shelter a list of authorized visitors and the frequency of the visits.

The law requires that the child be released to the parents immediately unless it has been determined that:

  • There does not appear to be a parent, guardian, or responsible relative willing or able to provide the care and control that the child needs.
  • There is an immediate and urgent need to protect the child.
  • There is substantial evidence that a parent or guardian might flee the jurisdiction of the court with the child.
  • The child has run away from a placement that was made by the Juvenile Court.

If the child is not released to the parents, there will be a hearing in Dependency Court within 3 Court days* to decide whether to return the child to the parents or to keep the child in protective custody. The parents will receive a notice of this hearing, which is called a Detention Hearing.

* Court days do not count weekends or holidays.

Juvenile Dependency Court is the part of Superior Court concerned with the safety and protection of children. It hears cases where child abuse and neglect are alleged to have occurred. The Court determines if a child can safely live with his or her parents or should be placed in the care of others.

Dependency Court is solely interested in protecting children and helping families with the problems that brought them to Court. It is not designed to determine criminal guilt or punish parents.

All proceedings in Dependency Court are confidential, and hearings are not open to the general public.

A petition is a legal document requesting the Court to make a child a dependent of the Juvenile Court. It must be filed with the Court within 48 court hours of when a child is placed in temporary protective custody.

A petition contains allegations made by the Department of Family and Children’s Services regarding the need for the Court to take responsibility for the safety and protection of a child.

In preparing the petition the Dependent Intake social worker will speak with the child, parents, relatives, friends, neighbors, school or medical personnel, and anyone else who may have relevant information regarding the child’s safety. The parents are given a copy of the petition.

Parents have the right to have a lawyer advise and represent them at all hearings.

Although Dependency Court is generally conducted in a less formal manner than Criminal Court, the parents generally want to have a lawyer.

If parents can’t afford to hire their own lawyer, one will be appointed for them by the Court. In Santa Clara County, this will probably be the Public Defender. They may be required to repay the Court for the cost of their appointed lawyer, based upon their ability to pay.

If they do not want a lawyer, they are entitled to represent themselves and to be heard by, and speak directly to, the Judge or Commissioner.

The Department of Family and Children’s Services may also have their lawyer present.

A Dependent Intake social worker with the Department of Family and Children’s Services will assess the allegations of abuse or neglect in the petition.

The social worker contacts the parents to arrange for an interview. They are advised to talk to their lawyer before they are interviewed.

The social worker also interviews the child(ren), if they are age 4 or older, and any other individuals who may be able to provide relevant information about the situation.

Statements made by the parents and outside sources, as well as information from police reports, are summarized in the social worker’s report. The report will also contain recommendations to the court regarding the parents and the child.

The parent’s lawyer will receive copies of all reports that are presented to the Court.

1. The Detention Hearing

If the child has been taken into temporary protective custody, a Detention Hearing will be held within 3 Court days. At the Detention hearing, the Judge will consider whether the child:

  • Can be made safe from danger if returned to parental custody, or
  • Will be safe in the care of a willing relative, or
  • Shall remain in temporary foster care.

2. The Jurisdictional Hearing

The Jurisdictional Hearing will be held within 15 days from the date of the detention hearing.

At this hearing, the parents will be asked if they agree or disagree with the statements in the petition.

If the parents do not agree with the statements in the petition they have a right to a trial. Prior to going to trial a Settlement Conference is held (see Settlement Conference and Trial for details).

If the Court finds the petition not true, the case will be dismissed, and the child will be ordered returned to the parents.

If the Court finds the petition true, the case will be set for a Disposition Hearing. This hearing may be held immediately after the Jurisdictional Hearing but not later than 10 court days.

3. The Disposition Hearing

At the Disposition hearing, the Court reviews specific recommendations and a Case Plan, which are prepared by the social worker. These will be discussed with the parents and may include specific actions that they have agreed to take to resolve problems and make a safe home for the child.

At the Disposition Hearing, the Court may take one or more of the following actions:

  • Release the child to the parents and have the Department of Family and Children’s Services informally supervise the case for 6 months.
  • Declare the child to be a dependent child of the Juvenile Court and release the child to the parents, with a Social Worker providing Child and Family Services to ensure the child’s safety in the parent’s home.

A. Declare the child to be a dependent child of the Juvenile Court and order placement in the home of the other parent, or with a relative, or in a foster home or group home.

B. Make decisions regarding visiting the child, or where the parents and the child may reside, or order the parents to participate in counseling, parenting classes, or other similar programs.

C. Dismiss the case and terminate all proceedings.

4. Settlement Conference and Trial

A Trial may be requested if the parents do not agree with the petition or the social worker’s recommendations.

If the case is set for trial, a Settlement Conference will be scheduled first. A settlement conference is an opportunity for all concerned parties to meet and discuss the facts of the case and work out a resolution that is agreeable to all.

Often, because all parties involved simply want what is best for the child, it’s possible to come to an agreement at this informal conference. If agreement is reached, the terms of the agreement are presented for the Court’s review and approval.

If the case is not settled at the Settlement Conference, there will be a trial, at which time the Court will decide if the allegations in the petition are true or not.

Each side will present its own witnesses and question the witnesses on the other side. The Court will weigh the evidence and either find the allegations of the petition to be true or not true.

If the Court finds the petition not true, the case will be dismissed, and the child will be ordered returned to the parents.

If the Court finds the petition true, the case will be set for a Disposition Hearing. This hearing may be held immediately after the Jurisdictional Hearing.

Sometimes the Court will refer specific unsettled cases to undergo mediation prior to going to trial.

Mediation is a process in which a neutral person (mediator) helps families, their attorneys, social workers and County Counsel to arrive at a negotiated solution to the problem.

Mediation is a confidential process and will not be used in Court. It Is conducted in a setting separate and apart from the courtroom. The mediation is an impartial process with the best interests of the child as the guiding principle. The mediator encourages open and clear communication between all parties in an attempt to bring everyone involved in the process together to resolve all issues. However, if that is not possible, he or she tries to assist in narrowing the issues for the purposes of the trial.

Parents will always be notified of hearings dates. If they don’t appear at a hearing, it will still be held, and decisions will be made without them.

If the Court has ordered the parents to appear, and they do not, the Court may issue a citation for their appearance. If the Court orders them to bring the child to the hearing and they do not, the Court may issue a citation for both the parents and the child.

It is essential that you keep your social worker informed of your current address and telephone number.

Child and Family Services are provided by the Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children’s Services to ensure the safety and protection of children, and whenever possible, help them to remain in their own homes or return home as soon as possible.

A major source of services are the Family Resource Centers located at:

Nuestra Casa
1998 Alum Rock Ave
San Jose, Ca. 95116
(408)251-7663

Gilroy Resource Center
7351 Rosanna Street
Gilroy, Ca. 95020
(408) 848-1260

Ujirani Resource Center
687 N. King Rd.
San Jose, Ca. 95133
(408)251-5142

Asian Am. Resource Center
625 D Wool Creek Dr.
San Jose. Ca. 95111
(408) 299-8900

The Centers are community-based operations offering on-site support groups and counseling for problems of family violence, drug/alcohol abuse, parenting, appropriate discipline, caring for medically fragile children and related issues effecting families.

Limited emergency funds for purchasing specific services not covered by other sources are available. Child supervision is available for parents attending support groups. You should discuss referral to one of the Resource Centers with your social worker.

The agencies listed below provide parenting classes as well as other services. You should discuss referrals with your social worker.

Adult & Child Guidance Center
292-9353
English/Spanish
Alum Rock Counseling Center
294-0500 x20
English/Spanish Preteen and Teenage
The Bridge Counseling Ctr.
(So. County)
779-2113
English/Spanish
Chamberlains (South County)
848-6511
English/Spanish
Economic & Social Opportunity
289-1070
African-American
Family Health Foundation-Alviso
977-1591
English/Spanish
Indian Health Center
294-7010
Native American
Public Health Nurses
299-4305
English
Santa Clara Educational Options
249-9756
English
South Valley Counseling Center
(South County)
842-7138
English/Spanish
YWCA
295-4011
English

Keeping families together is the initial goal of the Department through voluntary services or court ordered services.

• Family Maintenance Provision of services to resolve family problems before they get out of control and children are abused or neglected.

Intensive services may be provided to a family in lieu of court intervention. Services and resources are concentrated at the height of the crisis, when change is most likely to occur.

Teenage parents are provided services that teach nurturing and appropriate care of infants.

• Home Supervision is a support service. The focus of the service is to maintain wherever safely possible, a minor in his/her own home, under the supervision of a social worker designed to carry out the specific orders and conditions of the Juvenile court at the time of the jurisdictional/dispositional hearing.

PLACEMENT SERVICES Temporary placement services are provided to the child when the child cannot safely remain at home. The goal of the agency is to return the child home as soon as this can be done without placing the child in danger.

Reunification Services are provided to children removed from their families by court order. Planning, placement and continuing supervision are provided to children in relative homes, licensed foster homes, group homes and community care facilities. Parents receive services in parenting classes, drug treatment, mental health services, household management and other services as needed.

As long as a child is safe and cared for, the best place for that child is with his or her own family. Child welfare laws and services are geared to help keep families together and keep children with their parents.

Children remain out of their parents’ care only when, in the opinion of the Court, the children are not safe from danger in their own homes. Therefore, all services offered to parents will be to ensure that their child can be safely returned to them.

Some of the things that might be required of them may include:

  • Attending parenting classes to understand how to be a better parent.
  • Getting counseling and participating in a program to overcome a drug or alcohol abuse problem.
  • No longer living with someone who is known to have abused their child.
  • Establishing a home and getting financial assistance and/or employment, so they can provide housing, food, and other necessities of life for their children.
  • Visiting regularly with their children in foster care and keeping up an ongoing interest in their activities and accomplishments. There may be other steps that the parents, their social worker, and the Court will work out for the parents to take in order to be reunited with their children.

Parents will be expected to work with their social worker and the Court to develop a plan that they can carry out, and then to make sure they follow through.

If the child becomes a dependent of the Court, the Court will hold a hearing to review the case at least every 6 months. Parents will be notified of these hearings. At these hearings, the Court will look at the progress they have made toward solving their family problems and making a safe home for the child.

Parents will be working with their social worker during this period to achieve the goals they agreed to meet in Court.

If the child is living with them, they will receive Child Welfare Services until the Court is convinced they have made enough progress to show that their child is safe in their home without the ongoing supervision by the Department of Family and Children’s Services.

If the child has been removed from their home, the Court may decide that they have successfully resolved their problems and permit them and their child to be reunited. The Court may or may not require ongoing supervision by the Department of Family and Children’s Services.

However, if after two six-month reviews the Court determines that it is not likely the parents and the child can be reunited, the Court may take steps to take permanent custody so that a permanent home can be found for the child through adoption, legal guardianship, or long term foster care.

Parents have the right to:

  • Be represented by a lawyer at every stage of the proceedings or to represent themselves and to speak directly to the Court.
  • Have a lawyer appointed to represent them if they can’t afford to hire one.
  • An interpreter if they do not understand the English language.
  • Be notified of all Court hearings and to be present at them.
  • See and ask questions of witnesses against them.
  • Subpoena witnesses to testify in Court.
  • See copies of all social workers’ reports that will be presented at a Court hearing.
  • Receive Child and Family Services to help them get their child back.
  • Be consulted regarding medical treatment and vacation trips if their child is placed outside their home.
  • Contact and visit their child, unless otherwise ordered by the Court.
  • Contact the Agency Child Welfare Ombudsperson who independently will look into concerns they may have regarding any part of the dependency process.

If the child is detained by the Court, the parents may be required to provide financial support for their child. The amount of their support will be based on their income and will be determined by the Family Support Division of the District Attorney’s office.

If the child is made a dependent child of the Court and placed in a foster home, the parents will be asked to provide information to the Department’s eligibility staff to determine their child’s eligibility for financial assistance. They will be asked to provide eligibility information every 6 months as long as their child remains in placement.