Dependency Court Process

A dependency is an assertion by the state or a third party that a parent is unfit or unable to care for their child or children. The Department of Child Safety (DCS) is usually the party who requests the state file a dependency petition to remove the children from the custody of the parents. DCS may request removal based upon:
  • Abandonment
  • Neglect
  • Parents' inability to control the child
  • Suspected:
    • Mental abuse
    • Physical abuse
    • Sexual abuse
close up of baby hand with parents hands
  1. Investigation
  2. Hearings
  3. Severance & Appeals

Process Begins - Reports Received

The DCS hotline receives a report regarding possible neglect or abuse of a child. A DCS investigator well look into the matter and possibly remove the child and serve a temporary custody notice to the parent. Typically DCS will hold a Team Decision Making Meeting (TDM) within seventy-two hours of removal.

A TDM is an opportunity for the parents and DCS to discuss safety concerns, possible placement issues and potential services. Parents are entitled to retain and have an attorney present during the TDM. Even if the parents are unable to obtain an attorney they may bring supportive family and friends to the TDM.

Dependency Petition

If the child(ren) is/are not returned within seventy-two hours of removal, DCS will request that the Attorney General file a dependency petition.

Once a petition is filed requesting that the children be found dependent wards of the state, the court schedules a pre-hearing conference and a preliminary protective hearing and appoints counsel for the parents and a Guardian ad Litem for the children. The pre-hearing conference and the preliminary protective hearing will be held in five to seven days of the removal of the child from the home.

Pre-Hearing Conference

On the day of the pre-hearing conference the parents will meet with their attorneys to discuss the case. After the meeting all parties will be ushered into a conference room for the pre-hearing conference. The purpose of the pre-hearing conference is to facilitate the resolution of issues, custody, placement, and visitation in a non-adversarial manner.

After the pre-hearing conference the parties will have a formal hearing before the judge where the agreements reached at the prehearing are entered on the record. Also, the preliminary protective hearing is where the parent may dispute the removal of their children and request a hearing to determine whether the children require out of home placement. If a parent does not appear for the pre-hearing conference and the preliminary protective hearing, the matter will be set for an initial hearing.