The thought of your children being taken away from you can be your worst nightmare. When you receive notice that a dependency petition has been filed against you, it can feel like this nightmare is coming true.
Additionally, you might have no idea what is involved in a dependency proceeding or what your rights are. You may feel powerless and that you have no control over what happens to your children.
What is dependency?
First, it helps to understand what dependency means. When the Department of Child Services (DCS) receives a report that a parent is unable or unfit to take care of their children, the agency asks the state to file a dependency petition to remove the children from the home.
The initial report to DCS can come from anyone, such as a mandated reporter like a teacher or doctor. The report can allege various things that deem a parent unfit, such as suspected physical abuse or abandonment.
Preliminary protective conference
The next step is a preliminary protective conference. This is a meeting to discuss custody, visitation or other issues.
The preliminary protective conference must be held within five to seven days after your children are removed from your home. You may have an attorney with you who can advise you on your rights and advocate for you.
Initial hearing and trial
The next step after the conference is an initial hearing, which is held 21 days from when you received the dependency petition. This hearing is your chance to admit or deny the allegations.
If you deny the allegations, your case is scheduled for trial. At the trial, the state must prove the allegations against you with evidence, such as witnesses or documents. You also have a right to present your own evidence.
The case plan
If the court finds at trial that the children are dependent, a case plan is opened for you and the other parent.
The case plan typically lists goals you must complete before your children are returned to you. The goals could be things like completing a parenting class, taking a drug test or obtaining appropriate housing.
Having support through the dependency process is crucial. You can learn more about your rights as a parent and get advice on the next steps to take.