Child Protective Proceedings

This section is designed to give parents, guardians, and other interested parties who are involved in a child protective proceeding a general overview of what to expect throughout the process. For a more comprehensive understanding of how these proceedings apply to you specifically, the Court encourages you to contact an attorney.

A child protective proceeding starts when a petition is filed in this court. The petition is a written document that contains one or more allegations, which, if true, would bring the child within the jurisdiction of the court. The person or agency who files the petition is known as the Petitioner. The other party, or parties, to whom the allegations are directed, is/are called the Respondent(s).

A petition may or may not request that a child be removed from the respondent’s home. If the petition does not seek removal of the child, a preliminary inquiry will be held. This is an informal hearing where the court determines whether to deny the petition, refer the matter for alternative services, or proceed with authorization of the petition. Parents need not be in attendance for this particular hearing.

Conversely, if the petition does seek to remove the child from the home, or if the child has already been removed, a preliminary hearing will be held. At this hearing, the court will determine whether or not there is probable cause to believe that the child comes within the jurisdiction of the court. If probable cause does exist, the court will authorize the petition, and then decide whether or not the child should remain in placement outside of the home until the trial.

If the petition is authorized, a trial (also known as an “adjudication”) will be scheduled. At the trial, the petitioner will bear the burden of proving that the child comes within the jurisdiction of the court. When a child comes within the jurisdiction of the court, it means that the court has the power to enter orders affecting the child, parents, and other persons that interact with the child. If the allegations in the petition are proven by a preponderance of the evidence, the court will take jurisdiction over the child.

After the court has taken jurisdiction, a dispositional hearing will either be held right after the trial, or within the next 28 days. At the dispositional hearing, the court will determine what actions to take. In most cases, when the goal is to reunify the child with the parents, the court will order that the parents are to comply with a Case Service Plan that is designed to help address the issues that brought the parents under the court’s jurisdiction in the first place. 

After an order of disposition is entered, the court will conduct dispositional review hearings and permanency planning hearings periodically. The purpose of these hearings is to monitor the progress of the child, the parents, and any other respondents, and to make any appropriate changes to the dispositional order. If the plan is to reunify the child with the parent, the court will look to ensure that the parent is complying with, and benefitting from, his or her case service plan.

If a parent does not comply with, or is not benefitting from, his or her case service plan, or if other conditions are present, a petition to terminate parental rights may be filed with the court and a termination hearing will be held. At this hearing the person who filed the petition will be required to prove that grounds for termination exist. If grounds for termination are proven, by clear and convincing evidence, parental rights will be terminated, if doing so would be in the child’s best interest.

Conversely, if the court finds that a parent has complied with and benefitted from the services provided, and that the conditions that brought the family within the court’s jurisdiction no longer exist, the court may return the child to the parents’ home, if the child was removed, and dismiss the case.