After your children are taken by the social worker, the law requires that you be given the opportunity to go to court and challenge the social worker. This can be a long process.
The social worker has to notify you, within 48 hours of you losing your children, that you have a court date. Some counties use the 72 hour rule, which some appellate courts have upheld, despite what the statute requires.
If you are taken to court after this time, request that your attorney make a motion to dismiss the case for failure to have your first hearing within the required time frame (the 48 hour rule). This issue could become important later.
At this first hearing, you should have hired a competent private attorney to represent you in this matter. If you did not hire an attorney, California law requires that a court-appointed attorney be given to you to represent you in this matter. Just like if there were a criminal case, if you are unable to afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you. First, in most counties, you will be required to pay the County back for your court-appointed attorney (s/he is not free); but, this avenue is probably less expensive than hiring your own attorney.
But like in a criminal case, serious consideration should be given to hiring a competent private attorney. A private attorney may have some advantages over a public defender. But, this decision should be made on a case by case basis.
At this initial hearing, you and your attorney will be given the “discovery” in the case. This generally includes the allegations filed against you, and the supporting documentation, including the California Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) section 300 petition, the Application for petition, and the Detention Report.
Not all children are recommended to be removed from their parent/s.
But, in cases where this is recommended by the social worker, it is important that you and your attorney review the discovery documents, and try to craft arguments as to why the children should be returned to your custody.
The difficult thing at this hearing, and this hearing only, is that the judge must accept the allegations by the social worker as true. After this hearing, the social worker must prove the case against you.
If you are in disagreement with the judge’s ruling, California law allows you to have a detention rehearing. At this rehearing, you may cross examine the social worker, live and on the stand; and in some cases, the judge may permit you to present some limited evidence on your own.
The most important thing for you to know at this hearing is that you have a right to a speedy trial. If the children are removed from your custody, your trial may be within 15 judicial days; if the children are not removed, your trial may be within 30 judicial days.
The reason this is important is that a lot of juvenile court rooms are extremely busy, and your trial may be scheduled for a date 2 or 3 times past the 15 or 30 day limit.
Now, in some circumstances, this may be beneficial to the parents; sometimes not. But in any event, it is the sort of thing you should know, and you should consider, when scheduling your next dates at the initial hearing.