Shelter and Dependency

When a report of child sexual abuse is received by Department of Human Services/Child Welfare (DHS/CW), the first determination regards immediate risk of harm to the child. Following the report or disclosure by the child, DHS/CW are responsible for making sure that the child is safe from further abuse. This includes keeping the child from family members that may not believe the report and/or are pressuring the child to recant. Workers interview family members to assess their willingness and ability to protect the child. A determination will be made whether the abuser if he is a family member, will be removed from the home, or if Protective Custody of the child needs to be considered.

Workers may work closely with the law enforcement agency during the investigation.
If the child appears to be in immediate danger, Law Enforcement will place the child protective custody based on independent determination that the child's health, safety, and welfare is jeopardized. DHS/CW works with Law Enforcement and makes arrangements for the child to be placed in a licensed facility, the care of relatives, or another placement authorized by the court.

Shelter Care Hearings determine whether the child should remain in shelter care until the Dependency Hearing. The Shelter Care Hearing occurs within 72 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) of the child's removal from parental care. Reasonable efforts must be made to provide notice of the Hearing to the parent, guardian, or legal custodian. Rules of evidence are more relaxed at Shelter Care Hearings. Hearsay is admissible evidence. Indigent parents often have a right to court-appointed counsel. A volunteer CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates); guardian ad litem; or attorney for the child is often appointed at this court hearing.

The court will issue an order at the Shelter Care Hearing regarding the child's return home or continuing in temporary care. The child will NOT be returned home if the parent or guardian is unable to care for the child or if the child's return home presents a serious threat of substantial harm to the child. The court will then issue an order that the child be placed in Protective Custody. Shelter Care orders are effective for 30 days. If the court orders the child to remain in Protective Custody, another hearing will be scheduled.

Child Welfare will participate in an investigation with Law Enforcement. A determination will be made that the case is:
  • Founded - Determination that the allegation of abuse is justified by evidence produced during the investigation, and the child has been and is at risk of abuse.
  • Unfounded - Determination that the investigation did not produce enough substantial evidence to conclude the child has been or is at risk of abuse.
  • Unable to determine - Not enough information was produced during the investigation to make a decision that the child is or has been at risk.

If the case is founded, and abuse occurred in the home, a determination will be made regarding the non-offending parent's "failure to protect." The custodial parent will be assessed regarding ability to protect the child from further abuse and maintain the safety of the child in the home. If the parent appears unable physically or emotionally to appropriately care for the child, Child Welfare will file a Dependency Petition with the court, alleging types of harm done to the child. Dependency Fact-Finding Hearings may be scheduled regarding allegations of the Dependency Petition.

If a parallel dependency case is before the court, the child victim may be assigned both an attorney to represent her legal rights and an independent child advocate. The parent appears before the court regarding ability to provide effective parenting. Child Welfare must produce a plan concerning placement and reunification services. The plan and disposition order is sufficiently detailed that all parties are aware of what remedial actions and compliance is expected of the parent. Ongoing services are provided to the child and the parent now involved with Child Welfare.

Dependency Fact-Finding Hearings are often combined with the Disposition Hearings (See below).
This is a hearing or trial on the allegations stated in the dependency petition. This hearing must occur within 75 days of filing the dependency petition unless a continuance is granted by the court for extraordinary reasons. Rules of evidence apply in Fact-finding hearings. The court will hear evidence, and a decision must be made regarding the allegation and substantiation of abuse.

Dependency Disposition Hearing
This hearing usually occurs within 2 weeks after dependency is established. The purpose is to determine the child's placement, visitation, and services offered to the child and family. Rules of evidence are relaxed at the disposition hearing, and hearsay is admissible. DHS/CW must provide a plan concerning placement and reunification services. The plan and disposition order will provide detail regarding actions and services required by the parents. These may include attendance at parenting classes, participation in substance abuse or other counseling, and making sure that the child attends medical and counseling appointments.  

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