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  • Writer's pictureLaw Offices of Michael E. Moyer

What to Know About Child Dependency Cases

Child dependency cases are complex legal proceedings designed to protect children who are allegedly abused, neglected, or otherwise in need of care and supervision.

These cases involve multiple stakeholders, including parents, social workers, attorneys, and the court system, all working to determine the best interests of the child. Understanding the process and key elements of child dependency cases can help you navigate this challenging situation more effectively.

1. What is a Child Dependency Case?

A child dependency case arises when a state or local child welfare agency believes that a child is not safe in their home due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The primary goal is to ensure the child's safety and well-being, which may involve removing the child from their home and placing them in foster care or with a relative.

Common Reasons for Child Dependency Cases

  • Abuse: Physical, emotional, or sexual harm inflicted on a child.

  • Neglect: Failure to provide basic needs such as food, shelter, medical care, or education.

  • Abandonment: Leaving a child without adequate care or supervision.

  • Substance Abuse: Parental drug or alcohol abuse that endangers the child.

  • Mental Health Issues: Parental mental health problems that impair their ability to care for the child.

2. The Legal Process

Initial Investigation

The process typically begins with a report to a child protective services (CPS) agency. CPS conducts an investigation to assess the child's safety and the validity of the allegations. This may involve home visits, interviews with the child and family members, and gathering evidence.

Emergency Removal

If the child is deemed to be in immediate danger, CPS may remove the child from their home and place them in a temporary protective setting, such as foster care or with a relative.

Court Proceedings

A series of court hearings follow to determine the child's future. Key hearings include:

  • Detention Hearing: Held within a few days of emergency removal to decide if the child should remain in protective custody during the case.

  • Jurisdiction Hearing: Determines whether the court has jurisdiction over the case based on evidence of abuse, neglect, or abandonment.

  • Disposition Hearing: Establishes a plan for the child's care, which may include reunification with the parents, placement with relatives, or long-term foster care.

  • Review Hearings: Periodic hearings to review the case progress and the child's welfare.

3. Roles and Responsibilities


Parents have the right to legal representation and to present their case in court. They must also comply with court-ordered services and plans aimed at resolving the issues that led to the dependency case.


The child is often appointed a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) or a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to represent their best interests in court.

Social Workers

Social workers play a critical role in investigating allegations, developing case plans, and monitoring the child's welfare throughout the process.


Both the parents and the child typically have legal representation. Parents can hire private attorneys or be assigned public defenders if they cannot afford one. The child’s attorney advocates for the child's best interests.


Judges oversee the court proceedings, make determinations based on evidence presented, and issue orders regarding the child's placement and care.

4. Case Plans and Services

Case plans are developed to address the issues that led to the dependency case. These plans may include:

  • Parenting Classes: To improve parenting skills.

  • Counseling: For both parents and children to address underlying issues such as trauma, substance abuse, or mental health problems.

  • Substance Abuse Treatment: Programs for parents with substance abuse issues.

  • Visitation Plans: Structured visits between parents and children to maintain their bond while working towards reunification.

5. Reunification and Permanency

The primary goal of child dependency cases is reunification, where the child is returned to their parents once it is safe. However, if reunification is not possible, the court will seek other permanent solutions, such as:

  • Guardianship: Assigning legal guardianship to a relative or another adult.

  • Adoption: Terminating parental rights and allowing the child to be adopted by another family.

  • Long-Term Foster Care: In some cases, children may remain in foster care until they age out of the system.

6. Rights and Appeals

Parents have the right to appeal court decisions if they believe there has been a legal error. It's essential to work closely with legal counsel to navigate appeals and understand the implications of court rulings.

Child dependency cases are emotionally charged and legally complex, aiming to ensure the safety and well-being of vulnerable children. Understanding the process, knowing your rights, and working with dedicated professionals can help navigate these difficult situations. The ultimate goal is to provide a safe, stable, and nurturing environment for the child, whether through reunification with their parents or finding a new permanent home.


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