Juvenile Dependency Definitions

Following are common terms used in juvenile dependency cases:





Abuse (Child Abuse): State law defines child abuse as existing when another person causes a child (minor aged 18 and under) to suffer (1) physical injury (2) sexual abuse, or (3) emotional abuse. Child neglect is defined as negligent treatment that threatens the child’s health or welfare. The different types of child abuse/neglect can be categorized as follows:

  • Sexual abuse is the victimization of a child by sexual activities, including molestation, indecent exposure, fondling, rape, and incest.
  • Physical abuse is bodily injury inflicted by other than accidental means on a child, including willful cruelty, unjustifiable punishment, or corporal punishment.
  • Emotional abuse is nonphysical mistreatment, resulting in disturbed behavior by the child, such as severe withdrawal or hyperactivity. Emotional abuse includes willfully causing any child to suffer, inflicting mental suffering, or endangering a child’s emotional well-being.
  • General neglect is the negligent failure of a parent/guardian or caretaker to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or supervision where no physical injury to the child has occurred.
  • Severe neglect refers to those situations of neglect where the child’s health is endangered, including severe malnutrition.
  • Exploitation means forcing or coercing a child into performing activities that are beyond the child’s capabilities or which are illegal or degrading, including sexual exploitation.

Adjudicate/Adjudication: When a juvenile court adjudicates allegations in a petition filed by a county child services agency, it determines, based upon all evidence provided to it during the “adjudication hearing,” whether the petition’s allegations are true or not. If it finds the allegations to be true, it then has a basis to assert jurisdiction over the subject child and it may proceeds to conduct a “disposition hearing.”

A court usually conducts disposition immediately following the adjudication, making the two hearings appear to be one hearing. However, they are distinct hearings with distinct purposes and requiring distinct sets of findings under the law.

Admission/Admit: A parent or caretaker against whom allegations of child abuse and/or neglect have been made by a county child services agency may opt to admit them either at the initial hearing on the petition in which the allegations are made, the “Arraignment/Detention” hearing, at a “Pre-trial Resolution Conference” hearing, or at the regularly scheduled Adjudication. If a person opts to enter a plea, admit, to the allegations in advance of the regularly scheduled Adjudication, the hearing at which they enter a plea becomes the Adjudication.

People do not enter admissions at the A/D hearing, even when they do intend ultimately to admit to one or more of the allegations against them. The normal course is to enter a “denial” to the allegations at that early stage.

Adoption: Adoption is the permanent legal custody of another individual’s child; adoption takes place after the parents’ rights have been terminated by the court or voluntarily relinquished by the parents.

Affidavit or Declaration: Written statements of personal knowledge, which are signed under penalty of perjury under the laws of the state and offered for the truth of the statements in a court of law as evidence in support of a party’s particular argument or position. They are generally prepared in a numbered paragraph fashion, with each paragraph discussing a particular point or topic. The evidentiary rules of hearsay, lack of foundation or personal knowledge, and so on, apply to these statements and subject the statements to motions by the opposing party and orders by the court to strike them or parts of them.

Allegation(s): A declaration or claim concerning the behavior or actions of an individual. In the juvenile dependency context, allegations are presented to the court in written “petitions,” in formats and forms prescribed by the Judicial Counsel. Allegations in the juvenile context always allege that a parent or caretaker’s conduct toward a child brings that child within the juvenile court’s jurisdiction under one of the many subdivisions delineated in section 300 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code.

CalWORKS: California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids Act; a division of state government that provides for aid and medical assistance.

Caregiver: The parent or other person appointed by a child’s parent to provide care for his or her child, or a person appointed by the juvenile court to care for a child when the state steps in as parens patriae.

Caregiver Authorization Affidavit: An affidavit that has the primary purpose of declaring that an individual will receive a certain amount of authority for a child.

Case Plan: The court-approved plan for either maintaining a dependent child in his home with his parents if it is determined by the juvenile court at the Disposition Hearing to be safe to do so, or, if not, for reunifying the child with his parents at some future point in time.

Recommended Case Plans are written by the social workers and submitted by them to the juvenile courts for use at the Disposition Hearing once the court has declared a child a dependent. Case Plans are frequently drafted by the various parties’ attorneys handling negotiated settlements of dependency cases on behalf of their respective clients in the juvenile court.

A Case Plan describes “Family Maintenance” or “Family Reunification” requirements such as visitation, counseling or parenting and other education classes, or other treatments which parents, caretakers and the dependent children themselves must follow in order to maintain custody of their dependent children or to get you’re their children back, once the juvenile court has ordered their removal from their parents or caretakers.

Child Protective Services: County agencies that are comprised of social workers of various stripes and ranks who are responsible for the welfare of children who have allegedly experienced abuse and/or neglect from their primary caretakers. We have used this term or some similar moniker generally throughout these definitions t refer to agencies such as the Orange County Department of Social Services (DSS), or the Los Angeles County Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS). Each County determines for itself what its agency will be called, but they all perform essentially the same functions to a greater or lesser degree, under the auspices of the California Department of Social Services.

Court Days: Days when Judges or other Bench Officers (Commissioners, Referees [Judges Pro Tem]) are in the courtroom and doing business. This is usually Monday through Friday, except holidays and weekends.

Court Order: A direction from the court on some matter. Violations of these orders may subject the violator to criminal convictions and sanctions including monetary fines or jail time.

Custody: The caregiver who has daily responsibility for a child either temporarily or permanently (see legal custody and physical custody below).

Declaration of Paternity: A legal form document that, when signed by both parents, says the man is the natural father of the child. Signing the Declaration is voluntary and subjects to alleged father to payments of child support to the custodial parent or repayment of child welfare payments made by the state to caretakers who have been appointed by the juvenile court as foster or relative caregivers to care for the children.

Default Judgment: A judgment entered against a defendant when the defendant fails to file an answer to a plaintiff’s complaint/action in a civil lawsuit, to answer a petition for dissolution in the family law court, or when the defendant fails to make an initial appearance to answer charges against him or her in criminal or juvenile dependency or delinquency court.

Dependency Petition: A petition filed by a county’s child protective services agency in the juvenile court claiming that a child should be made a dependent of the court based upon allegations in the petition that the child’s parent(s), legal guardian(s) or caretaker(s) have abused or neglected the child.

Dependency/Juvenile Dependency: A child is a “dependent” of the state, of the county in which he or she is adjudicated a dependent, and of the Superior Court, which adjudicates the dependency. A Dependent Child is a ward of the court under the parens patriae doctrine, by which the state, via the court, steps into the shoes of the child’s actual parents and fills that role, or attempts to do so. The court delegates its obligations to dependents to the county child protective agency for that particular county, and the agency regularly reports child’s and his or her family’s progress.

Detention/Detained: A child who has been removed from parent(s), legal guardians or caretakers by a county’s child protective services agency has been detained. Within three days of such detention, the agency must file a dependency petition in the juvenile court and the parent, guardians or caretakers must be arraigned on the allegations against them in the petition. During the Arraignment hearing, the court will also conduct a Detention Hearing to determine whether slight evidence (“prima facie” evidence) exists to support the continued detention of the child. If not, the child will be ordered returned to the parent, guardian or caretaker.

Disposition Hearing: the hearing held once the court sustains the dependency petition and your child becomes a dependent of the court. At this hearing, the court will recommend a plan for your child.

Distant Relative: any relative who is not the child’s parent, sibling (brother or sister), aunt, uncle, or grandparent.

Emergency Assessment: an evaluation by a social worker of a child’s relative. The social worker will determine whether the relative’s home is a proper placement for the child. The assessment includes:

  • an in-home visit to assess the safety of the home and the relative’s ability to care for the child
  • a criminal records check
  • an investigation of any allegations of prior child abuse or neglect by that relative or any adult living in the relative’s home

Emergency Response: the actions taken by CPS immediately after they are told that a child is without her parent to make sure that someone is caring for the child.

Emergency Shelter: the temporary housing where CPS places a child while they locate relatives or arrange for a more permanent place for the child (and her siblings) to live.

Family Law Facilitator: a neutral office in the family courts which assists people through the court process when they do not have lawyers.

Family Reunification Services — services provided to the child and his/her parent(s) when the child is not living with you. It is designed to address the problems that led to dependency.

Foster Parent: persons given temporary placement of a child from Child Protective Services. Foster parents are sometimes de facto parents.

Foster Care: out-of-home care provided to children whose parents cannot care for them and who need temporary or long-term substitute parenting; both the person (foster parent) and the home are licensed by the state or county and are monitored by licensing workers and/or social workers.

Hearing: a judicial investigation, which assesses abilities of the child’s parents and determines the future living arrangements of a child.

Immediate Relative: any relative who is one’s parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or grandparent.

Indian Child Welfare Act: federal law that tells how to handle an Indian child custody case.

Jurisdiction Hearing: a hearing to determine whether your child should be made a dependent of the court based on allegations in the Dependency Petition.

Juvenile: A minor person who is under 18 years of age, or who is 18 but has not graduated high school, and who has not been permitted by a court of law to emancipate from his parents or guardians. An emancipated minor is a minor who is under age 18 and ahs been permitted by a court of law to be free from the authority of his or her parents or guardians. In order to be allowed to emancipate, a minor must demonstrate to the court that he or she is able financially and emotionally to obtain shelter, work and reside on his or her own without any assistance from others, including the state.

Juvenile Court: A county Superior Court, which has been specially designated as a Juvenile Court. Such a court can serve as a Juvenile Delinquency (criminal) Court or a by authority of State law Juvenile Dependency Court. Juvenile Dependency Courts are instituted in each county for purposes of protecting children from physical and emotional abuse or neglect while also guarding and protecting parents and children’s constitutional rights to reside together as a family unit without unnecessary state interference.

Jurisdiction: In order for any court to have authority to make orders effecting people, it must have jurisdiction both over the parties to whom it makes orders and over the subject matter about which it makes them. Thus, there are two sorts of jurisdiction:

    1. Personal Jurisdiction (aka In Personum Jurisdiction) and Subject Matter Jurisdiction.

A court may gain personal jurisdiction, authority to make orders effecting a person or his property, when proper notice has been provided to the subject person and that person either resides in an area within the court’s scope of authority, or when the person makes a general appearance before the court, even if he did not reside near enough to the court and the court would otherwise not have authority to make orders effecting him or his property.

    1. In Rem Jurisdiction

This jurisdiction gives a court authority to make orders effecting a person’s real or personal property which is located within the parameters of a court’s physical authority, even if the owner of the property does not reside within that area and is not personally subject to the court’s authority.
of 18. The Dependency court deals with abuse and neglect cases, usually because of the parent’s behavior. Delinquency court deals with acts by a youth that would be criminal if the youth was an adult.

Kin-GAP: (Kinship Guardianship Assistance Payments): Aid provided on behalf of children in kinship care. “Kinship guardian” means a relative who has been appointed the legal guardian of a dependent child pursuant to §366.26 of Welfare and Institutions Code.

Legal Custody: The right to make decisions about a child’s well being including the child’s health, education and welfare. The juvenile court generally vests Physical custody, (supervision and control) over detained children in the county child protective services agency, which detained them. However, parents retain legal custody over their children unless and until the court reassigns that authority to whatever extent it deems necessary in the agency or the children’s caretakers.

Legal Guardianship: Court-ordered legal and physical custody vested by a court in a non-parent caregiver which gives a caregiver the essential authority of the child’s parent. A legal guardian is said to “step into the shoes” of a child’s parent.

Long-term Foster Care: Long-term custody arrangement where a county’s child protective services agency supervises the child while in a foster parent’s care and custody beyond the statutory period allowed for attempts to reunify the child with his or her parents or legal guardians. Long term foster care is the least preferred of three possible “permanent plans” for a child for whom reunification with his parents has failed or been bypassed. The most preferred plan is adoption, while legal guardianship is the middling preferred plan.

Minor: Anyone under the age of 18.

Motion for Modification: (also known as a 388 Petition): A form motion which “anyone with an interest in a dependent child” may file in the juvenile court in order to seek a change of prior custody or other orders based upon a showing by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) that there are new or changed circumstances indicating that it would be in the best interests of the dependent child to grant the petition’s (movant’s) requests.

Non-custodial Parent: The biological parent who does not have physical custody of his or her child.

Notice: Legal information about a hearing in your child’s or child ward’s case: when and where it will take place. Proper notice of a hearing to those entitled to receive such notice is a constitutional predicate to a court’s jurisdiction (authority) to proceed.

Notarized: Swearing that statements are true under oath, before an official “Notary.”

Parent: The lawful mother or father of a child. This may be by blood, marriage or adoption. There are three categories of parent, though they generally refer only, but not necessarily only, to fathers:

  1. Alleged Father’s — merely alleged to be a child’s father without evidence to support the proposition other than the assertion itself
  2. Biological Fathers — akin by blood. Generally demonstrated by HLA blood testing or other genetic testing
  3. Presumed Father’s

As described by Family Law Code section 7611:

“A man is presumed to be the natural father of a child if he meets the conditions provided in Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 7540) or Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 7570) of Part 2 or in any of the following subdivisions:

  1. He and the child’s natural mother are or have been married to each other and the child is born during the marriage, or within 300 days, after the marriage is terminated by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity, or divorce, or after a judgment of separation is entered by a court.
  2. Before the child’s birth, he and the child’s natural mother have attempted to marry each other by a marriage solemnized in apparent compliance with law, although the attempted marriage is or could be declared invalid, and either of the following is true:
    • If the attempted marriage could be declared invalid only by a court, the child is born during the attempted marriage, or within 300 days after its termination by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity, or divorce.
    • If the attempted marriage is invalid without a court order, the child is born within 300 days after the termination of cohabitation.
  3. After the child’s birth, he and the child’s natural mother have married, or attempted to marry, each other by a marriage solemnized in apparent compliance with law, although the attempted marriage is or could be declared invalid, and either of the following is true:
    • With his consent, he is named as the child’s father on the child’s birth certificate.
    • He is obligated to support the child under a written voluntary promise or by court order.
  4. He receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child.
  5. If the child was born and resides in a nation with which the United States engages in an Orderly Departure Program or successor program, he acknowledges that he is the child’s father in a declaration under penalty of perjury, as specified in Section 2015.5 of the Code of Civil Procedure. This subdivision shall remain in effect only until January 1, 1997, and on that date shall become inoperative.
  6. The child is in utero after the death of the decedent and the conditions set forth in Section 249.5 of the Probate Code are satisfied.”

Parental Rights: The legal rights of a parent to raise a child as he or see sees fit, but in a non-abusive or neglectful manner.

Permanency Planning Hearing (under WIC section 366.26): A hearing at which the juvenile court decides which of three possible permanent plans to implement for a child who cannot be returned to his or her parent or legal guardian.

Petition: A written request for specific court action with respect to a child and a hearing on the request, based upon allegations within the petition against a parent or legal guardian.

Physical Custody: Refers to the person, generally a parent, with whom the child lawfully and actually resides.

Power of Attorney: A written agreement for one to act on behalf of another with regard to decisions involving some legal matter, such as the right to decide issues about a child’s religion, education and/or medical care. It may be an agreement between the parent of a child and the child’s relative or foster caregiver that gives the caregiver responsibility and authority over certain matters concerning the child, such as medical needs, schooling, public assistance and Medi-Cal, legal matters.

Pro Per/Pro Se: Appearing on your own behalf without an attorney to represent you.

Qualified Relative Caretaker: A non-parent family member of a child whom the law (WIC section 361.3) and the juvenile court recognize as able to take care of a dependent child or a detained child not declared a dependent of the juvenile court.

Removed/ Removal: See “Detention.” Occurs when the county child protective services agency or the juvenile court takes the child from her parent’s physical custody.

Respite Care: Services that offer care (i.e. child care or temporary foster care) to relieve the caregiver or parent of childcare responsibilities for a specific length of time.

Reunify/Reunification: The goal in dependency to bring the child and her parent or parents together again. Reunification Services are services provided, at least ostensibly, by county social services agencies to parents or guardians of detained children, such as referrals to counseling, parenting education, and so on, in an effort to reunify parents with their detained children.

Review Hearing (Status Review Hearings): Review Hearings are conducted by the juvenile court under WIC sections 366.21 and 366.22, every six months in order to review the services provided to parents or guardians of dependent children, the efforts made by the parents or guardians to reunify with their children or wards, and to decide whether the child may be returned home, or what other services might be required to achieve the goal of return. Where a parent’s efforts to follow the case plan (court ordered counseling, visitation and so on) have been minimal, the court may terminate efforts to reunify at one of these six month hearings, depending on the age of the child, and set a hearing under WIC section 366.26 to determine the most appropriate permanent plan for a child.

Supervised Visits: Court ordered visitation by parents, guardians, relatives or friends of a dependent child, which are monitored by a neutral observer who watches and listens to ensure that nothing inappropriate or violative of court orders occurs or is said to the child.

Sustain: Refers to a juvenile court’s finding during the Adjudication Hearing that the allegations against a parent or guardian in a child protective services petition that a child comes within WIC section 300 due to abuse or neglect are true, thus providing a basis for the court to assert jurisdiction over the subject child at the disposition hearing.

Termination of Jurisdiction: Commonly called “JT” by attorneys and the court. When the court declares an end to its jurisdiction, custody and supervision over a child and returns all decision making about the child to his parents or legal guardians.

Termination of Parental Rights: Commonly called “TPR” by attorneys and the juvenile court. Where the juvenile court has determined that a child who cannot be returned to his parents or guardians is “adoptable,” meaning that she is likely to be adopted if parental rights are terminated, the court is required by law to terminate parental rights so that efforts to have the child adopted can proceed.

Termination of Reunification Services: Commonly called “Termination of FR” by attorneys and the juvenile court. A juvenile court must terminate reunification services at a WIC section 366.21 or 366.22 review hearing if either a parent or guardian has not complied with its court ordered case plan and the statutory time allotted for allowing FR has expire, or where the law requires Termination of FR because a parent or guardian has not sufficiently participated in court ordered programs designed to reunify parent/guardian and a removed dependent child.

Welfare and Institutions Code: The group of laws (Code) dealing with dependency, delinquency, CPS, and drug possession and use.

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