Dependency Neglect proceedings with DHS are very serious and very scary for parents. Fortunately, you don't have to go through this experience alone. You have the right to be represented by an attorney at every stage of the process. The terminology and laws that apply to DHS hearings are unique. There are steps you need to take to protect yourself and your children. This article is designed to give you a brief overview of the DHS Dependency-Neglect process so that you know what to expect. Here is the timeline:
- A person files a report with the Child Abuse Hotline and DHS investigates the report.
- If DHS determines that there is an emergency, the child will be temporarily taken into DHS custody or the custody of a relative. If the child is placed in DHS custody, DHS will obtain an "Ex Parte Emergency Order for Custody."
- Within 5 days after the Emergency Order is issued, there will be a "Probate Cause Hearing." At this hearing, the court will determine whether DHS had probable cause to remove the child and whether the child can be returned home safely. This is the only issue heard at this hearing. You or your attorney should look at DHS's evidence closely to see if they can show that they had probable cause. You have the right to review the investigator's report and to question any witnesses. If there was not probable cause, the child can be returned home.
- Within 30 days after the Probable Cause Hearing, the court will hold an "Adjudication Hearing." This is a trial. The court will determine at this hearing whether to "adjudicate" the child as dependent, neglected or abused. If the court does not find that the child is dependent, neglected or abused, then the child can be returned home. However, if the court does find that the child is dependent, neglected or abused, then the court will move forward to the "Disposition Hearing."
- The "Disposition Hearing" is held either at the same time as the Adjudication Hearing or shortly thereafter. The Disposition Hearing will set out a 6-month plan for the child and the parents. The court will determine who will have temporary custody of the children and what the visitation schedule will be. The court will also order DHS to provide services to the parent(s) in order to remedy the problem. The parent can be ordered to complete certain classes or tasks, like taking a drug test, submitting to a psychological evaluation, going to parenting classes or going to therapy.
- At the "Six Month Review Hearing," the court will determine whether the parent has followed the 6-month plan and whether they have received the services ordered by the court. The court will determine whether these services have remedied the problem such that the child can return home.
- The court will continue to hold Six Month Review Hearings until either the problem is resolved or whether permanent plans need to be made for the child's future.
- If the problems have not been resolved within a year, the court will hold a "Permanency Planning Hearing" to decide whether it would be in the child's best interest to be adopted. If so, the court will set a "Termination Hearing" to terminate the parental rights of a parent who has not followed the orders of the court and has not shown that he or she can provide adequate care for the child. If parental rights are terminated, the parent is no longer related to the child and has no rights as to them. The court will continue to hold Post-Termination Hearings until the child is adopted but the terminated parent will not be allowed to attend.
As you can see, these proceedings are complex and their implications are serious and sometimes permanent. If you have a DHS hearing, you need to contact an experienced family law attorney like Leslie immediately.