After DCF takes a child into custody the State is required to conduct a shelter hearing in front of a Circuit Court Judge that handles juvenile matters within 24 hours. An Emergency Shelter Petition is usually drafted by DCF and the child protective investigator outlining the allegations, voluntary services that were offered to the family, the department's recommendation for the parent's visitation, and the proposed temporary placement of the child. The Department has to show by probable cause that the child or children have been abandoned, abused, or neglected or are at imminent risk of abandonment, abuse, or neglect.
In most cases the Department will then file a Petition for Dependency and serve it on the parents. An arraignment on the Dependency Petition must be held within 30 days from the date that the children were removed. At the hearing the parents are expected to enter a plea to the petition admitting, denying, or consenting to the allegations in the Petition. In rare instances the Department can direct file a dependency petition without seeking to remove the children. In this case the arraignment would be the first court proceeding.
Case Plan Resolution Conference
Once a Dependency Petition has been filed Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes requires the State to sit down with the parents to develop a Case Plan that specifically addresses the issues the family is facing. Some jurisdictions refer to this process as a mediation or a case plan resolution conference.
This is typically a short hearing to address the status of the case. If the parties agreed to and executed a Case Plan prior to the pre-trial then this hearing will oftentimes be used to accept the Case Plan. If the parties did not come to an agreement then the matter should set for an Adjudicatory hearing.
If a Case Plan is not accepted by the Court then the Department is required to prove by the Preponderence of the Evidence that the child or children have been abandoned, abused, or neglected or are at imminent risk of abandonment, abuse, or neglect and that a Case Plan or Court order is required to protect the children. The law requires that an adjudicatory hearing be held within 30 days from the date of the arraignment on the Dependency Petition.
If a child is adjudicated dependent and the parties do not agree to a Case Plan then the Court is required to hold a dispositional hearing within 30 days from the Adjudicatory hearing to determine what the Case Plan tasks and goal should be. This hearing is an opportunity for all of the parties to present evidence about what tasks should be required of the parents and what the Court's plan for permency should be.
A Judicial Review is required to take place no more than 90 days after disposition or the date when the Court accepts the Case Plan. In no circumstance should the initial Judicial Review be more than 6 months after a child is removed. Subsequent Judicial Reviews should be scheduled at least every 6 months to address the status of the case. The Judicial Review is an opportunity for the Court to get a status on the child(ren) and the parents' compliance with the Case Plan. The parent's visitation, the Case Plan goal, and the goal date are also typically discussed at this hearing. The Department of Children and Families is required to file a Judicial Review Social Study Report (JRSSR) that outlines the issues listed above.
Permanency Judicial Review
No later than 6 months after a child(ren) has been placed in shelter care the Court shall conduct a Judicial Review to review the child's permanency goal as identified in the Case Plan. At this hearing the Court is required to make specific findings as to a parent's liklihood of the child's reunification with a parent or legal custodian within 12 months of the removal of the child from the home. The Court will oftentimes begin concurrent planning if the parent(s) is not on track for reunification and may consider amending the goal to Permanent Guardianship or Termination of Parental Rights and Adoption.
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