When the Juvenile Court has an abuse or neglect case, the purpose of the court is to keep children safe and help families have safe homes for their children. If possible, the Juvenile Judge will allow the children to remain in the home if they can be safe and protected from harm.
The Juvenile Judge takes children out of the home when they cannot be safe and protected in the home. Children are not removed from their home to punish their parents, guardians, or custodians.
The Juvenile Judge can order you and your family to get help. The Judge can also order that your child be taken from your custody and placed in the temporary custody of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS). This means, for the time being, DHS is legally responsible for your child and, with the Juvenile Judge’s approval, can decide where your child should live and what you must do to have your child returned to you.
If your child is removed from your home, the Juvenile Judge may order you to pay child support. This is because you are still the parent, guardian, or custodian, and you still have a duty to support your child, even if your child is living outside your home.
It is very important for you to know that the same problems or actions that brought you to Juvenile Court may cause criminal charges to be brought against you, your partner, someone else who lives in your house, someone else in your family who does not live in your house, or anyone who has harmed your child or put your child in danger.
If your child is removed from your home, you will receive a copy of the papers that have been filed with the court. One of the papers is called a Petition for Emergency Custody. The petition is written after the DHS receives and investigates a report of abuse or neglect concerning your child.
The emergency hearing must be held within five working days from the date of the filing of the order that the Judge signs taking custody from you. The petition lists you as a defendant. This means you are the parent, guardian, or custodian in a child abuse and neglect case. The child is also listed as a respondent. An affidavit is attached to the petition. The affidavit contains one or more allegations, which are sworn statements of what is believed to have happened and the reasons that the DHS believes that your child needs to be in the custody of the DHS. If you are low income, and your child has been removed from your custody, you are entitled to appointment of free legal representation if you ask for it.
When the petition is given to you, it will have a paper called a summons attached to the front of it. The summons tells you the date, time, and place where the court hearing will take place so that you can be present for the hearing. It also tells you about your right to have an attorney represent you and how to get an attorney if you cannot afford to pay for an attorney.
During a dependency or neglect case, you may have to go to several court hearings so the Judge can listen to information presented from all parties and decide what will happen. Types of hearings in child abuse and neglect cases and time frames in which they should happen:
Each court hearing has a different purpose. The hearings listed above are described in the sub-sections below. Read through these descriptions so you will know when each hearing should be held, what to expect at each hearing, and why it is very important for you to be present at each hearing.
There are five types of hearings. See information about each hearing below.
The emergency hearing must be held within five working days from the date of the filing of the order that the Judge signs taking custody from you. The purpose of the emergency hearing is for the Judge to decide whether there is reason to continue the emergency order removing the child from your custody. At the emergency hearing, the Judge will decide whether your child can safely live with you, stay in the temporary custody of the Department of Human Services (DHS), or live with someone else until the adjudication hearing (trial) is held. The Judge's decision is based on what is necessary for your child's safety and best interests.
If your child does not return to your home at this hearing, the Judge will make a decision about visitation between you and your child. The Judge may also make decisions about any services that the DHS will provide to your family.
The attorney for the DHS will present information about the case to the Judge. You can give information to the Judge at this hearing. If you have an attorney at that hearing, your attorney will also be able to present information. If you do not have an attorney, cannot afford to hire one, and the child was removed from your custody, the Judge will appoint an attorney to represent you if you ask. At the emergency hearing, the Judge will give you the time and date of the next hearing, which is called the adjudication hearing.
The adjudication hearing is sometimes called a trial. It must be held within 30 days after the emergency hearing, unless there is a good reason for having the hearing at a later date. But, the adjudication hearing cannot be held later than 60 days from the date that the emergency hearing washeld.
The purpose of the adjudication hearing is for the Judge to decide if your child has been abused or neglected. At this hearing, the Judge listens to evidence about why the case first came to court. Witnesses will tell what they know about the facts of the case. Your attorney can ask them questions. Your attorney can have you, and any other people you want, to tell the Judge about the facts of the case.
After the Judge hears all the witnesses and other information, they will decide if your child is dependent (abused) or neglected. If the Judge decides that your child is not dependent nor neglected, the case will be dismissed, and your child will be returned to your custody and can go home withyou.
If the Judge decides that your child is dependent or neglected, the Judge will decide what needs to happen to you, your child, and your family so that your child can be returned to you. This decision is called the disposition.
The disposition hearing is usually held at the same time, or immediately after the adjudication hearing. If not, the disposition hearing must be held within 14 days from the date that the adjudication hearing was held.
At the disposition hearing, the Judge decides if it is in your child's best interests to stay in the custody of the DHS, be placed in the custody of someone else, or be returned to you.
At this hearing, the Judge will make some orders and approve a goal for the case. These court orders and the case plan require that the DHS give some services to you, your child, and your family so that you can keep your child safely in your home or work toward having your child returned to you.
It is very important that you work with the DHS and obey the Judge's orders. If you do not do these things, the Judge can hold you in contempt of court, and it could take longer for your child to be returned to you. In fact, if you do not obey the Judge's orders, you could go to jail and even loseyour rights to your child forever. In order for your child to be returned to you, you must show that you can protect and care for your child.
The first review hearing must be held within six months from the date your child was taken out of the home. The next review hearing must be held within six months after the first review hearing.
The Judge may have the review hearing sooner if it is needed. You could be ordered to attend more than one review hearing during the time that your case is under the Judge's direction.
The purpose of a review hearing is for the Judge to:
The permanency planning hearing is a hearing for the Judge to decide on a plan for permanent placement for your child.
The permanency planning hearing must be held no later than 12 months from the date your child was removed from the home. But the Judge can decide to hold the permanency planning hearing before that 12-month period.
At this hearing, the Judge listens to all the information about what has happened since the case first came into court. The Caseworker for the Division of Children and Family Services must say what they think is best for your child as far as the permanent plan for placement.
Then the Judge must decide which one of these goals is in your child's best interests for your child's permanent: