Getting notice that DSS is taking your children because there are allegations of abuse, neglect or dependency can be very scary as a parent, and so can the confusing and long process of getting your children back from the department. My goal is to help you understand the process and what to expect at each stage.
When you are initially served with a summons and petition, it means that DSS has taken custody of your child(ren) and normally either gives placement of the child(ren) to a foster home or with relatives approved by DSS. A petition states the allegations from their report and lays out whether there are allegations of abuse, neglect, and/or dependency. A hearing will be required within seven (7) days of the children being taken from your care, and this is called a “non-secure” custody hearing. At this hearing, the Court will determine the need for DSS to keep the children where they are at that particular point.
The next stage of this process is a “Pre-Adjudication” conference, and this must be held within thirty (30) days of the petition being filed. Many times, this is where the attorneys, DSS, the Guardian Ad Litem, and the judge speak about the allegations and whether or not the parents want to stipulate to the allegations in the petition. This is also the time where the Court will set a time for an adjudication hearing if you as a parent do not want to stipulate to the allegations. If the parents do wish to stipulate to the petition, then adjudication and disposition may be handled all in the same day as pre-adjudication.
The next stage is Adjudication, and it must be held between forty-five (45) and sixty (60) days from petition being filed. Adjudication is the stage at which the Court determines whether or not there has been abuse, neglect or dependency by a parent against the child(ren) involved. Every parent has the right to a hearing in order to confront witnesses and even put on your own evidence. Parents also have the choice to admit to the allegations at that time. If the Court finds that there was no evidence if abuse, neglect or dependency, or that it did not rise to the level required in the statute, the case will be over. If the Court finds evidence of abuse, neglect and dependency, and rules as such, then it moves to the dispositional stage (often the same day).
The Dispositional Stage is where the Court determines the plan moving forward for the children that were adjudicated as abused, neglected or dependent. This is normally where the Court adopts recommendations from DSS and the Guardian Ad Litem for things that parents should complete in order to show that they are capable of getting their children back. These items can include parenting classes, substance abuse classes, mental health assessments, therapy, domestic violence classes, drug tests, etc. This hearing normally happens on same date as adjudication, but it must happen no later than thirty (30) days after adjudication. All parties involved have a chance to speak at this stage as well.
Next, it moves to the review stage. There will be a first review hearing, and it must happen within ninety (90) days of disposition. Review hearings are conducted to review the progress of both the parents and the children involved. There can and will likely be multiple review hearings after the initial review hearing. Permanency planning hearings often coincide with the review hearings and that is where DSS, Guardian Ad Litem, and the parents all present their opinions for a long term plan for the child(ren) and the Court decides what is best for the children.
If the Court determines that there should be a permanent plan of adoption, then there may be a hearing for Termination of Parental Rights at a later date to determine whether the parents should be able to keep their parental rights of the children involved in the litigation.
This is just a basic outline of the process if DSS were to become involved in you and your family’s life. For more information, visit nccourts.org or contact us at King Law Offices, PLLC to assist you in your legal matter. We can be reached at (828) 286-3332 or www.kinglawoffices.com.