What is juvenile dependency court?

The local county Child Protective Services (CPS) opens a case in juvenile dependency court when a child’s parent(s) or caregivers are suspected of abuse or neglect.[2407]

When would CPS get involved?

CPS gets involved in a child’s life when a parent has been violent with, abused, or neglected a child, or if the child tests positive for drugs at birth.[2408] When CPS gets involved, they may open a case in juvenile dependency court.[2409] Whether or not they open a case in dependency court depends on if CPS removed the child from his or her home. Once CPS removes the child, a case is started in juvenile dependency court.[2410] In most cases, the parent(s) will have the opportunity to get their child back if they meet certain requirements.[2411]

What is considered child abuse?

Under the law, abuse may be physical harm, sexual abuse, cruel or unreasonable punishment, using drugs while pregnant, and/or neglect of a child.[2412]

Can CPS remove my child from my care just because I have a criminal record?

No. Just having a criminal record is not enough for Child Protective Services (CPS) or a judge to take your child away—there has to be some connection between your conviction and a risk of harm to your child. For example, a conviction for child abuse, certain violent felonies, or using drug or alcohol in a way that put your child at risk could cause CPS or the judge to remove your child from your care.[2413]

  1. 2407

    The law’s definition of “abuse and neglect” includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, causing the child to have emotional distress, and leaving your child unattended. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 300(a)-(j).

  2. 2408

    Cal. Penal Code § 11164-11174.3.

  3. 2409

    When someone makes a report about your child’s safety to the police or welfare department, the police or a social worker must investigate to decide whether the dependency court should get involved to protect your child. This might happen because someone suspected that your child wasn’t well taken care of, was abused or neglected, or was left with someone who didn’t take good care of him/her. Under the law, “child abuse” includes: physical harm done on purpose to a child; sexual abuse of a child, including assault and exploitation; cruel or unreasonable punishment of a child; and/or neglect of a child—failure to provide necessary care, food, shelter, etc. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 300 (“dependent child” defined).

  4. 2410

    Judicial Council of Cal., Guide to Dependency Court for Parents (2016), http://www.courts.ca.gov/1205.htm.

  5. 2411

    See Judicial Council of Cal., Guide to Dependency Court for Parents (2016), http://www.courts.ca.gov/1205.htm.

  6. 2412

    Cal. Penal Code §§ 11164-11174.3.

  7. 2413

    See, e.g., Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 366.21(e) (at status review hearing, court must consider parent’s criminal record “to the extent that the criminal record is substantially related to the welfare of the child or the parent's or guardian's ability to exercise custody and control regarding his or her child;” parent’s participation in substance abuse treatment is not prima facie evidence of detriment to child). Cf. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 361.5(b)-(c) (grounds for denial of reunification services).