The child abuse and neglect process is a long one, unlike most criminal cases. First, a complaint of abuse or neglect must be made to Child Protective Services (CPS). This complaint can come from multiple directions – from a mandated reporter, such as a school teacher or counselor, or from a police officer when investigating either an abuse/neglect complaint or a complaint regarding the parents of minors, such as when an incident of domestic violence occurs and the children are present in the home at the time. Once CPS receives the complaint, they investigate it to determine whether any action should be taken.
If CPS decides that action must be taken, they submit a petition to the court asking the court to take jurisdiction over the matter. Sometimes, CPS determine that they must remove the child(ren) from the home due to substantial risk to the child(ren) if they remain in the home. If the child(ren) are placed in temporary custody, a request for placement accompanies the petition to the court and a preliminary hearing is held within twenty-four hours (excluding weekends and holidays) for the court to determine whether to authorize the petition and whether to place the child(ren) outside the home.
Once the petition is authorized, a guardian ad litem (GAL) is appointed to protect the rights of the children. At this point, the parents also secure representation and have the opportunity to make admissions, which allow the court to take jurisdiction immediately. If the parents do not make admissions, or if only one parent makes admissions, the case is set for a trial. If a child is in placement, this trial must be held no later than sixty-three days after placement. If a child is not in placement, this trial must be held within six months after the filing of the petition. If both parents make admissions, no trial is required, the court takes jurisdiction, and orders that services be provided for the family. If a trial is held, it is to the issue of jurisdiction and, if the court finds that it has jurisdiction, the court orders services for the family.
Once the family is in services, a CPS worker continues to monitor the situation and the GAL also makes check-ins on the family and, particularly, the children. The court reviews the status of the services and the reports from the CPS caseworker and the GAL every three months, starting no more than six months after the petition has been filed, and a permanency planning goal is set within a year of the child(ren) being removed from the home. The initial permanency planning goal is always reunification – for the child(ren) to be returned home to the parents. At the review hearings, the parents and/or their attorneys are also given an opportunity to speak on their progress with the services. If the parents are progressing in their services and doing well, the permanency planning goal remains reunification, and the children are returned home after the completion of services and at the recommendation of the CPS worker and the GAL. However, if the parents are not participating in services or are not showing progress, the permanency planning goal may be changed to termination and adoption.
If the permanency planning goal changes to termination, a petition to terminate parental rights is filed and termination proceedings commence within forty-two days of the termination petition and are concluded within seventy days of the filing of the termination petition. Concurrently with termination, a permanent placement for the child(ren) is sought, such as adoption or permanent guardianship, depending on the age of the child(ren) involved.
Once the parental rights are terminated, the court continues to review the status of the child(ren) every three months following the termination for the first year. After that, the court continues to review the status every six months until the case is dismissed.