Typical Life-Cycle of a Juvenile Dependency Case in San Diego

Below is the typical life-cycle of a Juvenile Dependency Case in San Diego. 

Detention Hearing

A Juvenile Dependency case starts with an “Initial Hearing” or “Detention Hearing.” This is the first hearing in your case and limited things can happen at this hearing. First, parents will be served with the Petition. The petition is the blue paper that lists the specific allegations of abuse or neglect.  You should enter a Denial to the petition at this hearing.

Next, the judge will decide if your child is to remain in your care, or be removed from your care, pending the next hearing (approximately 3 weeks away). This 3-week period of time is supposed to provide time for the social worker to complete his/her investigation.

If the child is removed, the Judge will usually not decide specifically where the child will be placed; but will instead vest that decision with Child Welfare Services. In other words, the judge leaves that decision up to the social worker.

This is also the hearing where the child will be appointed public counsel, and the parents will be appointed public counsel if they do not have private counsel.

You have a right to a one-day continuance of this hearing by law (that means the judge cannot say no). This can give you time to hire a Child Welfare Law Specialist like our managing attorney, Kevin Lemieux.

Jurisdiction/Disposition Hearing

The Jurisdiction and Disposition Hearing is really two hearings in one. “Jurisdiction” means: is the allegation in the petition true?  If not, then the case will be dismissed. If the Judge finds that the allegation is true, then you move on to the Disposition stage. “Disposition” refers to what the court plans to do with the case. This includes, where the child will be placed (where the child will live during the case).  Will the parent be offered reunification services at all? If the parent is offered reunification services, what will those services be?

The social worker will show up to this hearing with a new report that has the conclusion of her investigation into the allegations. The report will also contain recommendations to the court regarding all of the questions mentioned above.

Settlement Conference and Trial

If you do not agree with the social worker’s recommendations at the Jurisdiction/Disposition Hearing, you can set the matter for trial. This is your opportunity to prove that your case should be dismissed, the child should be placed with you, or the child should be placed with family. Of course there are other issues that may come up, such as paternity, Indian status, etc, but the main issues are Truth of the Allegations and Placement.

If you do set the Jurisdiction/Disposition for trial, the court will set two dates—a settlement conference and a trial date. The settlement conference is typically held in front of a different judge. That judge’s job is to help you settle the case. If you do not settle, the trial will be held in the original department.

Pending completion of Jurisdiction/Disposition hearing or trial, the judge will make orders about where the child will be placed, and what services the parents must complete if they want to reunify. The court will then set a review hearing 6 months out.

6-Month Review Hearing

The law states that the “the court shall order the return of the child to the physical custody of his or her parent or legal guardian unless the court finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the return of the child to his or her parent or legal guardian would create a substantial risk of detriment to the safety, protection, or physical or emotional well-being of the child” (CA Welfare and Institutions Code 366.21(e)(1)).

In reality, at least in San Diego, this rarely happens. Social workers in San Diego are much more likely to recommend status quo or unsupervised visits at this stage. Other counties tend to move faster toward reunification, but San Diego is statistically slower to reunify families. This is one reason why it is very important that you have a lawyer who can litigate these issues on your behalf. 

If your juvenile dependency case remains open, the court will set another review hearing in 6 months. If your child is under the age of 3, and you have made no progress in your case plan, the court may set a .26 hearing described below.

12-Month Review Hearing

This hearing is just like the 6 month review, with the court operating under the same legal standard (CA Welfare and Institutions Code 366.21(f)(1)). The court is more likely to return the child to you at this hearing—but the court can, in certain circumstances, set an 18m review. 

Basically, it works like this: if you have done well, you will likely get placement of your child. If you have done OK, and you are close to getting placement, the court may give you an additional 6 months to complete your services. If you have done poorly, had a relapse, not involved, etc., the court will set a .26 hearing referenced below.

18-Month Review Hearing

This is a parent’s final chance to reunify. If the child is not returned to you at this date, the court will set a .26 hearing and move toward adoption (CA Welfare and Institutions Code 366.22). If the child is returned to you at this hearing, or any other hearing for that matter, the court will likely not close the case yet. Instead, it will set what is known as a Family Maintenance Review Hearing 6 months out. This is basically to keep an eye on you and make sure that the reunification is successful.

If at any time the court sets a .26 hearing, it will first terminate your reunification services. Basically, this takes you out of reunification and the court is now looking for a different permanent placement for your child. You still have a chance to get the child back via a CA Welfare and Institutions Code 388 motion, but those are hard to win. You will need a strong lawyer and a legitimate change of circumstance to have a chance to win a 388.

.26 Hearing

This is the worst hearing for a parent in a juvenile dependency case in San Diego. CA Welfare and Institutions Code 366.26 instructs the court to execute a permanent plan for the child (but that permanent plan does not include return to a parent at this point in a case). Instead, the court is to order adoption, or in limited circumstances guardianship for the minor. In rare situations, the child will simply remain in foster care, in a group home, etc.

If the court orders adoption, then parental rights are terminated and the birth parents are no longer the legal parents of the child. This is the end of the dependency case for a parent who has not reunified with their child.

Managing Attorney Kevin Lemieux, with 17 years of trial experience, has represented hundreds of individuals and families, and received multiple certifications and awards. Mr. Lemieux is also a trial skills instructor at the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, where he teaches and mentors other lawyers.

Call the Law Office of Kevin Lemieux today for a free consultation to speak with a qualified San Diego juvenile dependency lawyer.

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