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CODES/REFERENCES
O.C.G.A. §15-11-2, §15-11-19, §15-11-26, §15-11-102, §15-11-103, §15-11-111, §15-11-125,
§15-11-133, §15-11-145, §15-11-146, §15-11-150, §15-11-151, §15-11-170, §15-11-181,
§15-11-190, §15-11-191, §15-11-200, §15-11-203, §15-11-210, §15-11-211, §15-11-212,
§15-11-230, §15-11-231, §15-11-232, §15-11-264
Title IV-E of the Social Security Act Section 471 (a)(15)(E)(i)
Title IV-E of the Social Security Act Section 475 (5)(c)
50 U.S.C. App. §§501-597b-Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
REQUIREMENTS
The Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) shall intervene to protect a child, with
assistance from law enforcement and the courts if evidence indicates that the child should not
remain in the home or be returned to the parents/legal guardian due to safety concerns and
there are no alternative safety options for the child. Some of these situations may include, but
are not limited to:
1. A child has experienced life-threatening maltreatment or serious injury at the hands of a
parent, guardian or legal custodian;
2. A child was intentionally abandoned by the parents, guardian or legal custodian;
3. A child steadfastly refuses to return to the parents, guardian or legal custodian, and the
return could cause significant physical or emotional harm to the child;
4. Parents, guardians or legal custodians steadfastly refuse to have a child returned to
them. Direction through a court hearing may be necessary;
5. Parents, guardians or legal custodians have a significant mental illness, untreated illness
or significant mental disability that renders them unable to care for their children;
6. A parent, guardian or legal custodian has sexually abused a child; the offending parent ,
guardian or legal custodian will have access to the child and the non-offending parent,
guardian or legal custodian fails to protect the child;
7. A parent, guardian or legal custodian has caused the death of a child through
maltreatment;
8. Medical personnel identify an infant as affected by illegal substance abuse or withdrawal
symptoms resulting from prenatal drug exposure or diagnosed with a Fetal Alcohol
Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and a safety threat exists;
9. Parents, guardians or legal custodians have a significant history of drug or alcohol
addiction that is persistently denied or untreated and that renders them unable to care for
their children;
GEORGIA DIVISION OF FAMILY AND CHILDREN SERVICES
CHILD WELFARE POLICY MANUAL
Chapter: (3) Legal
Effective
Date:
December 2014Policy
Title:
The Juvenile Court Process
Policy
Number:
3.1
Previous
Policy #:
2102.1; 2102.10;
2102.11; 2102.12;
2102.15; 2102.18;
1002.2; 1002.3;
1002.11; 1013.1;

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Cps 198 i-screen out form-
 

3.0 introduction to court and legal process

  • 1. Page 1 of 15 CODES/REFERENCES O.C.G.A. §15-11-2, §15-11-19, §15-11-26, §15-11-102, §15-11-103, §15-11-111, §15-11-125, §15-11-133, §15-11-145, §15-11-146, §15-11-150, §15-11-151, §15-11-170, §15-11-181, §15-11-190, §15-11-191, §15-11-200, §15-11-203, §15-11-210, §15-11-211, §15-11-212, §15-11-230, §15-11-231, §15-11-232, §15-11-264 Title IV-E of the Social Security Act Section 471 (a)(15)(E)(i) Title IV-E of the Social Security Act Section 475 (5)(c) 50 U.S.C. App. §§501-597b-Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) REQUIREMENTS The Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) shall intervene to protect a child, with assistance from law enforcement and the courts if evidence indicates that the child should not remain in the home or be returned to the parents/legal guardian due to safety concerns and there are no alternative safety options for the child. Some of these situations may include, but are not limited to: 1. A child has experienced life-threatening maltreatment or serious injury at the hands of a parent, guardian or legal custodian; 2. A child was intentionally abandoned by the parents, guardian or legal custodian; 3. A child steadfastly refuses to return to the parents, guardian or legal custodian, and the return could cause significant physical or emotional harm to the child; 4. Parents, guardians or legal custodians steadfastly refuse to have a child returned to them. Direction through a court hearing may be necessary; 5. Parents, guardians or legal custodians have a significant mental illness, untreated illness or significant mental disability that renders them unable to care for their children; 6. A parent, guardian or legal custodian has sexually abused a child; the offending parent , guardian or legal custodian will have access to the child and the non-offending parent, guardian or legal custodian fails to protect the child; 7. A parent, guardian or legal custodian has caused the death of a child through maltreatment; 8. Medical personnel identify an infant as affected by illegal substance abuse or withdrawal symptoms resulting from prenatal drug exposure or diagnosed with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and a safety threat exists; 9. Parents, guardians or legal custodians have a significant history of drug or alcohol addiction that is persistently denied or untreated and that renders them unable to care for their children; GEORGIA DIVISION OF FAMILY AND CHILDREN SERVICES CHILD WELFARE POLICY MANUAL Chapter: (3) Legal Effective Date: December 2014Policy Title: The Juvenile Court Process Policy Number: 3.1 Previous Policy #: 2102.1; 2102.10; 2102.11; 2102.12; 2102.15; 2102.18; 1002.2; 1002.3; 1002.11; 1013.1;
  • 2. Page 2 of 15 10.A child requires medical treatment to prevent a serious illness or disability, or a child’s life may be in danger and the parents, guardians or legal custodians are unwilling or refuse to seek medical treatment; 11.A non-offending parent, guardian or legal custodian although cooperative with DFCS, is unwilling or unable to protect a child from the offending parent, guardian or legal custodian; 12.Parents, guardians or legal custodians have repeated, serious criminal activity or a conviction of a felony and imprisonment which has a demonstrable negative effect on the safety of the child; 13.Parents, guardians, or legal custodians deny serious maltreatment and are unwilling to participate in the case plan; thus, leaving children at risk of serious maltreatment; or 14.Parent’s, guardian’s or legal custodian’s explanation for an injury or illness is inconsistent with the medical evaluation and/or assessment findings. DFCS shall adhere to the procedures and practices established by the Juvenile Court as outlined in the Official Code of Georgia (O.C.G.A.). A party to a hearing has the right to: 1. An attorney at all stages of the proceedings; 2. Be present; 3. Be heard; 4. Present evidence; 5. Cross-examine witnesses; 6. Examine pertinent court files and records; and 7. Appeal the orders of the court. NOTE: All children subject to a dependency action are parties. The court may exclude a child from any part of the dependency proceedings if the court determines that it is not in the child’s best interest to be present. The attorney for an excluded child shall not be excluded from the proceedings. Dependency Complaints/Petitions A DFCS Social Services Case Manager (SSCM), a law enforcement officer or any person who has actual knowledge of the abuse, neglect or abandonment of a child or is informed of the abuse, neglect or abandonment and believes it to be true may file a petition alleging dependency. Such petition shall not be accepted for filing unless the court or person authorized by the court has determined and endorsed on the petition that the filing of the petition is in the best interests of the public and the child. DFCS may file a dependency petition with the court seeking an order for protection of a child (protective order) restraining or otherwise controlling the conduct of a parent, relative or other caregiver in a case. (See policy 3.3 Legal: Court Orders and Placement Authority) DFCS may file a dependency petition requesting placement authority for a child or requesting that temporary custody of a child be transferred to another party. NOTE: A preliminary protective hearing must be held within 72 hours of a child being placed in foster care. DFCS shall file a petition for dependency within five days of the child’s preliminary protective hearing when the child is not released from foster care at this hearing. If the child was not removed from the home or was returned at the preliminary protective hearing, the petition shall
  • 3. Page 3 of 15 be filed within 30 days of the preliminary protective hearing. NOTE: The adjudication hearing shall be held no later than ten (10) days after the filing of the petition for dependency if the child is in foster care and within 60 days of the filing of the dependency petition if the child is not in foster care. If the adjudication is not completed within sixty (60) days, the dependency petition may be dismissed without prejudice. If a disposition hearing is not held in conjunction with the adjudication hearing, it shall be held and completed within 30 days after the conclusion of the adjudication hearing. Dependency Proceedings The court shall appoint an attorney for an alleged dependent child as soon as practical to ensure adequate representation of the child, but no later than prior to the first court hearing that may substantially affect the interests of the child. DFCS shall notify the court of a parent’s, guardian’s or legal custodian’s military service when either parent, guardian or legal custodian is on active military duty and serving outside the State of the court that has jurisdiction over the legal proceeding. NOTE: For the purposes of Section 521 of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), the term “State” includes the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam. When a child is found to be dependent, the court may make any of the following orders of disposition or combination of dispositions best suited to the protection and physical, emotional, mental and moral welfare of the child: 1. Permit the child to remain with his or her parents, guardian or legal custodian, with or without conditions by the court, including supervision; 2. Grant or transfer temporary legal custody to any of the following persons or entities: a. Any individual, including a biological parent, who has been studied and has been determined to be qualified to receive and care for the child; b. An agency or other private organization licensed or legally authorized to receive and provide care for a child; c. Any public agency authorized by law to receive and provide for care for the child except the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) or the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD); or d. An individual in another state, with or without supervision, pursuant to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. (See policy 15.6 Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC): Court Jurisdiction Cases and Other ICPC Components) 3. Transfer jurisdiction of the child in compliance with ICPC; 4. Order the child and his/her parent, guardian or legal custodian to participate in counseling or other services as determined by the court; 5. Order the parent, guardian or legal custodian of the child to participate in a court approved educational or counseling program designed to contribute to the ability of the parent, guardian or legal custodian to provide proper care and supervision of the child including, but not limited to, parenting classes; 6. Order DFCS to implement and the parent, guardian or legal custodian to cooperate with any court-approved plan; or 7. Order temporary child support.
  • 4. Page 4 of 15 Date Child is Considered to Have Entered Foster Care When a child is alleged to be a dependent child, the date such child is considered to have entered foster care shall be the date of the first judicial finding that such child has been subjected to child abuse or neglect or the date that is 60 days after the date on which such child is removed from his or her home, whichever is earlier. (See Practice Guidance for guidance on calculating the time in foster care.) Diligent Search DFCS shall conduct a diligent search for parents, relatives and others who have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to the child and submit the findings to the court within thirty (30) days of the child’s removal from the home. DFCS shall continue to conduct diligent searches throughout the child’s stay in foster care and submit the results and responses to the court at any judicial review or Judicial Citizen Review Panel (JCRP). (See policy 5.13 Investigations: Diligent Search) Case Plan Within 30 days of the day of removal and at each subsequent review of the disposition order DFCS shall submit a written report (case plan) to the court. A hearing to review the case plan shall be held if the parent, guardian or legal custodian disagrees with a proposed case plan for reunification and exercises his or her right to request a hearing before the court within five (5) days of the receipt of the plan. (See policy 10.23 Foster Care: Case Planning) Initial Review and Subsequent Periodic Review DFCS shall, in compliance with Georgia law, initially review all cases of children in foster care within seventy-five (75) days following a child’s removal from the home. An additional periodic review shall be held within four (4) months following the initial review. The court must conduct the initial review. The court shall have the discretion to schedule any subsequent review hearings as necessary. The Judicial Citizen Review Panel (JCRP) may conduct the review held within four (4) months of the initial review and any other periodic review as requested by the court. NOTE: A review compliant with federal case review requirements is completed as a part of every permanency plan hearing. (See policy 3.2 Legal: Case Review/Permanency Plan Hearings) Permanency Plan Hearings Permanency plan hearings must be conducted by the court and shall be held in the following situations: 1. No later than thirty (30) days after DFCS submits a non-reunification case plan to the court; or 2. For children under seven (7) years of age at the time a petition for dependency is filed, no later than nine months after the children are considered to have entered foster care; 3. For children seven (7) years of age and older at the time a petition for dependency is filed, no later than twelve (12) months after the children are considered to have entered foster care. Exception: For siblings removed at the same time and in which at least one child is under seven (7) years of age at the time the dependency petition is filed, the permanency plan hearing shall be held no later than nine months after the children are considered to have entered foster care.
  • 5. Page 5 of 15 A permanency plan hearing should be held at least every six (6) months after the initial permanency plan hearing, as long as the child remains in care or more frequently as deemed necessary by the court until the court determines that such child’s permanency plan and goal have been achieved. Non-Reunification Hearings A non-reunification hearing shall be held no later than 30 days from the time DFCS submits a non-reunification case plan. At the non-reunification hearing: 1. DFCS shall have the burden of demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence that a reunification plan is not appropriate considering the child’s health, safety and need for permanence; 2. DFCS shall notify the court whether and when it intends to file for Termination of Parental Rights (TPR); and 3. The court shall also hold a permanency plan hearing at which the court shall: a. Consider in-state and out-of-state permanent placement options for the child; and b. Incorporate a permanency plan for the child in the order. PROCEDURES The SSCM will be knowledgeable about the following: 1. The rights, roles and responsibilities of the County Department when serving as custodian of a child in foster care; 2. The procedural safeguards for the parents, guardians or legal custodians of children in foster care; 3. The Juvenile Court process including courtroom etiquette; 4. The applicable Federal laws and sections of the Official Code of Georgia (O.C.G.A.); 5. Court order requirements for Title IV-E funding; and 6. Timeframes for custody and other legal actions. Preparing for Court Prior to any court hearing, the following will occur: 1. The SSCM and Social Services Supervisor (SSS) shall discuss all available information that supports DFCS’ position on a case that will be in court and document in the narrative of the Contact Detail in the GA Statewide Automated Child Welfare System (Georgia SHINES); (See policy 2.1 Information Management and Documentation: Case Record Maintenance) 2. The SSCM shall notify the SAAG when either parent, guardian or legal custodian is on active duty in the military in order for the SAAG to notify the court; 3. The SSS shall review the documented evidence and help determine that the SSCM has sufficient evidence to support present or impending danger, each allegation of the dependency petition and the case plan or permanency plan to be considered by the court; 4. The SSS shall assist the SSCM in determining DFCS’ recommendations to the court , including whether or not visits need to be supervised, and prepare for court testimony; (See Best Interests Determination) 5. The SSCM shall review the case plan/services with the family and family support team via a Family Team Meeting (FTM) or other family meeting (See policy 5.12 Investigations: Family Team Meeting for CPS and Permanency); 6. Develop a court report to present to the court, when necessary, that summarizes the background of the case, the services and/or steps taken to resolve the issues, the
  • 6. Page 6 of 15 progress or lack thereof of the family and the recommendations of DFCS; and 7. The SSCM and SSS shall make the SAAG fully aware of all evidence, potential witnesses and DFCS’ recommendations prior to representing DFCS in court. Court Intervention to Protect Children When the safety of a child cannot be assured and/or a caregiver is non-compliant and court intervention may be necessary to protect the child, the SSCM will: 1. Staff the case with the SSS, SAAG and other county/regional staff to determine whether or not there is a need to file a dependency complaint and/or petition either for a protective order or for custody of the child; 2. Conduct a FTM or other family meeting prior to any court action, when possible, to notify the family of the impending court action, possible outcomes and to discuss any changes in the safety or case plans (See policy 5.12 Investigations: Family Team Meeting for CPS and Permanency); 3. Ensure the dependency petition is filed with Juvenile Court when court action is being sought; 4. Afford the person against whom a protective order is directed due notice and an opportunity to be heard prior to an order being granted by the court (accomplished by services of the petition as required by State law). 5. Request that a protective order be modified, extended or terminated by the court as deemed necessary and in the best interest of the child. Removal Once the decision is made in conjunction with the SSS, SAAG and any other county or regional staff to remove the child, the SSCM will: 1. If law enforcement does not make the removal, obtain authorization from the court or designated intake officer for DFCS to obtain placement authority for the child; NOTE: A verbal order may be issued by a Juvenile Court Judge, but must be followed by a written order which is obtained the first business day after the issuance of the verbal order. DFCS is not authorized to remove children without a court order. The first order signed by a judge sanctioning the removal of the child must contain the “contrary to the welfare of the child” or “removal from the home is in the best interest of the child” finding. If the removal or shelter care order is the first order signed by a judge, the language should be contained in this order. 2. If the court requires a hearing or other sworn testimony or statement prior to authorizing the removal of the child, immediately provide the SAAG with all necessary and relevant supporting evidence and information pertaining to possible witnesses; 3. Obtain a copy of the ex parte removal order, if issued by the court, or “authorization” to take child into custody and upload the court order into External Documents in the GA Statewide Automated Child Welfare System (SHINES) if not uploaded via the Case Plan Reporting System (CPRS) interface; 4. Complete the appropriate Custody Detail and Legal pages in Georgia SHINES; and 5. File a dependency complaint. NOTE: A dependency action may be filed in the county in which the child legally resides or in the county where the child is present when the proceeding is commenced provided that the child is present in that county without his parent, guardian or legal custodian or the acts underlying the dependency allegation are alleged to have occurred in that county. This is referred to as the venue. The court may transfer the proceedings to the
  • 7. Page 7 of 15 county in which a child legally resides, if the proceedings start in a different county. (See policy 3.13 Legal: Court Transfer of Jurisdiction) Juvenile Court Hearings 1. The preliminary protective hearing is held within 72 hours of the child’s placement into foster care. The SSCM will: a. Prior to the hearing, staff the case with the SSS, SAAG and any other relevant county/regional staff; b. Be prepared and provide testimony; c. If the court finds probable cause to believe that the child is dependent and that protective custody is necessary to prevent abuse or neglect pending the dependency hearing at the preliminary protective hearing, the judge may order the child to remain in foster care. A dependency petition must be presented to the court within five (5) calendar days of the preliminary protective hearing if the child remains in care; and d. Within 72 hours after the hearing, update the Legal Status and/or Legal Action pages in Georgia SHINES. NOTE: If the court finds probable cause to believe the child is dependent, but does not find that protective custody is necessary, then the court shall return the child to his parent, guardian or legal custodian pending the hearing on the dependency petition. 2. An adjudication hearing is held within ten (10) calendar days (unless continued by the court) of the filing of the dependency petition if the child is in foster care. If the child is not in foster care, the adjudication hearing is held no later than sixty (60) days from the filing of the dependency petition. The SSCM shall: a. Prior to the hearing, ensure a staffing occurs between the investigator, Investigator’s SSS, the Permanency SSCM, the Permanency SSS, the SAAG and any other relevant county and regional staff to discuss the evidence to be presented, witnesses needed, etc. b. Be prepared and provide testimony at the adjudication hearing; c. Within 72 hours after the hearing, update the Legal Status and/or Legal Action pages in Georgia SHINES based on the court findings regarding the child’s dependency including, but not limited to, any findings whether such dependency is found as a result of alcohol or other substance abuse. NOTE: Such findings become the basis of the initial case plan for reunification. 3. A disposition hearing may be held in conjunction with the adjudication hearing or continued to another date. If not held in conjunction with the adjudication hearing, the disposition hearing must be completed within 30 days of the conclusion of the adjudication hearing. At the disposition hearing, the SSCM shall: a. Share the results of the Comprehensive Child and Family Assessment (CCFA), if available, to assist with the decision-making regarding the placement and needed services; b. Be prepared to present agency recommendations related to the case; c. If the initial case plan has been developed, present it to the court (must be submitted to the court within 30 days of removal and at least 48 hours prior to the disposition hearing), so that it may be entered into the disposition order; and d. Within 72 hours after the hearing, update the Legal Status and/or Legal Action pages in Georgia SHINES. 4. An initial periodic review hearing shall be held within seventy-five (75) days following a
  • 8. Page 8 of 15 child’s removal from the home. An additional periodic review shall be held within four (4) months following the initial review. A review hearing may be held anytime a review of the case plan, services, progress of the family, etc. is necessary. The initial periodic review must be held by the court. The additional periodic review may be held by the court or the Judicial Citizen Review Panel (JCRP). (See policy 3.2 Legal: Case Review/Permanency Plan Hearings) 5. A permanency plan hearing must be held: a. Within thirty (30) days of a non-reunification case plan being submitted to the court; b. For children under seven (7) years of age at the time a petition for dependency is filed, no later than nine (9) months after the children are considered to have entered foster care; c. For children seven (7) years of age and older at the time a petition for dependency is filed, no later than twelve (12) months after the children are considered to have entered foster care; Exception: For siblings removed at the same time and in which at least one child is under seven (7) years of age at the time the dependency petition is filed, the permanency plan hearing shall be held no later than nine months after the children are considered to have entered foster care; d. At least every six (6) months after the initial permanency plan hearing, as long as the child remains in care or more frequently as deemed necessary by the court until the court determines that such child’s permanency plan and goal have been achieved; and e. The SSCM shall: i. Prior to the hearing, ensure a staffing occurs between the permanency SSCM, the permanency SSS, the SAAG and any other relevant county and regional staff to discuss the evidence to be presented, witnesses needed, etc. ii. Within five days before the permanency planning hearing, submit a case plan (See policy 10.23 Foster Care: Case Planning) to the court including: 1. A recommended permanency plan for the child; 2. An estimation of when the plan will be achieved; 3. Documentation of the reasonable efforts taken by DFCS to finalize the permanent placement of the child. iii. Be prepared and provide testimony at the permanency plan hearing. iv. If a permanency plan hearing is being held on a case where voluntary surrenders were obtained, request the court review: 1. The circumstances of the child; 2. Child specific-recruitment strategies DFCS has utilized such as the use of state, regional and national adoption exchanges and/or electronic exchanges; and 3. Any other steps taken by DFCS or the State Adoptions Unit to pursue a permanent home for the child. v. Within 72 hours after the hearing, update the Legal Status and/or Legal Action pages in Georgia SHINES. Requesting a Court Hearing The SSCM and SSS will consider requesting a court hearing when: 1. Parents, guardians or legal custodians fail to comply with critical elements of the case
  • 9. Page 9 of 15 plan and exhibit continued diminished protective capacities. Documentation reflects the agency provided support and services necessary for the parent(s), guardian or legal custodian to achieve these critical elements; 2. A change of custody is recommended; 3. A change in the specific provisions of the court order is needed; 4. Goals of the case plan have been met and it is appropriate to request to be relieved of custody/court-ordered supervision; or 5. Other circumstances affecting individual situations are identified and need to be brought to the court’s attention. PRACTICE GUIDANCE The health and safety of the child is the paramount concern when making critical decisions about whether a child should be removed from the home as the only alternative for the child to be protected and safe. The decision to file a complaint or petition alleging dependency is an extremely critical one made in child welfare cases. Despite reasonable efforts to remedy or improve the circumstances leading to the abuse or neglect, a child may remain in imminent danger. Thus, for the child’s health and safety, removal may be the only option. Preserving and strengthening families to prevent the unnecessary removal of children from their homes is an integral part of permanency planning. It recognizes that most children’s needs for permanency are met by the continuity of family relationships. In many ways the court acts as a “gatekeeper” for children entering and exiting the foster care system. Consequently, DFCS and the court must work together and share the accountability in assuring permanency at the earliest possible time for children. Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) Under the provisions of SCRA, a person on active duty military service, or someone on his/her behalf, may petition the court for a stay of the proceeding if he/she feels his/her military service materially affects his/her ability to defend himself/herself. The court does not automatically grant each request for a stay; only when it is determined that the parent’s, guardian’s or legal custodian’s ability to defend himself/herself is materially affected by military service will a stay be granted. The court may, on its own motion, postpone the proceeding for the presence of the parent, guardian or legal custodian. Child’s Attorney A child’s attorney owes the child the duties imposed by the laws of Georgia in an attorney-client relationship. Parent(s)’/Guardian’s/Legal Custodian’s Attorney Whenever a birth parent, guardian or legal custodian is represented by an attorney, the County Department shall recognize the implications of the attorney-client relationship. The SSCM needs to ensure the SAAG is informed of the attorney representing the parent, guardian or legal custodian. If the parent’s, guardian’s or legal custodian’s attorney is appointed by the court, the attorney cannot be relieved of responsibility until the court issues an order indicating he/she is no longer the attorney of record. If an attorney has entered an appearance in the Juvenile Court, he/she remains the parent’s attorney for the matter until the court has permitted the attorney to withdraw by appropriate order.
  • 10. Page 10 of 15 If the parent, guardian or legal custodian seeks to bring an attorney as his/her representative to any conference or review held at the County Department or other location, the County Department shall consult with the SAAG regarding the attorney’s presence and whether or not the SAAG should be present. Party A party means the state, a child, parent, guardian, legal custodian or other person subject to any judicial proceeding under Chapter 11 of Title 15 of the Official Code of Georgia; provided, however, that for the purpose of CHINS and delinquency actions, only the child and the state shall be a party. Discovery Prior to any court proceedings including TPR, a party may request information from another party to assist them in the presentation of their case in court. Although state law dictates that upon written request a party to a proceeding shall have full access to certain information for inspection, copying or photographing, these requests are usually handled by the attorneys (i.e. SAAG, parent’s, guardian’s or legal custodian’s attorney, child’s attorney, etc.) in the proceedings. If DFCS receives a written request for any of the following information, they should immediately staff the case with their SAAG: 1. The names and telephone numbers of each witness likely to be called to testify at the hearing by another party; 2. A copy of any formal written statement made by the child or any witness concerning the testimony of the witness that a party intends to call as a witness at the hearing; 3. Any scientific or other report which is intended to be introduced at a hearing or that pertains to physical evidence which is intended to be introduced unless a court order or written consent from the appropriate person is required; 4. Any drug screen concerning the child or his/her parent, guardian or legal custodian; 5. Any case plan concerning the child or his or her parent, guardian or legal custodian; 6. Any visitation scheduled related to the child; 7. Photographs and any physical evidence which are intended to be introduced at any hearing; 8. Copies of any police reports that are included in the basis for the petition; 9. Any other relevant evidence not requiring consent or a court order. Upon presentation of a court order or written consent from the appropriate person permitting access, any party shall have access to the following: 1. Any psychological, developmental, physical, mental or emotional health or other assessments of the child or his or her family, parent, guardian or legal custodian; 2. Any school record concerning the child; 3. Any medical record concerning the child; 4. Transcriptions, recordings and summaries of any oral statement of the child or of any witness, except child abuse reports that are confidential; 5. Any family team meeting report or multidisciplinary team meeting report concerning the child or his/her parent, guardian or legal custodian; 6. Supplemental police reports, if any, regarding an occurrence which is included in the basis of the petition; and 7. Immigration records concerning the child.
  • 11. Page 11 of 15 NOTE: If DFCS receives a court order requesting access to any of the above, immediately staff the request with the SAAG. Any request for discovery shall be complied with no later than five (5) days from receipt of the request or seventy-two (72) hours prior to any hearing unless the timing of the request does not allow the party to meet these timeframes. If a request for discovery is made fewer than forty- eight (48) hours prior to the hearing, the response should be produced in a timely manner. The SAAG should assist the County Department with all discovery requests. Date Child is Considered to Have Entered Foster Care When a child is alleged to be a dependent child, the date such child is considered to have entered foster care shall be the date of the first judicial finding that such child has been subjected to child abuse or neglect or the date that is 60 days after the date on which such child is removed from his or her home, whichever is earlier. In order to meet time frames for permanency hearings required under Title IV-E rules and regulations, DFCS staffs are advised to schedule permanency hearings using the removal date as the beginning point from which the permanency hearing time limits are calculated. As an example, an initial permanency hearing which must be held no later than twelve months from the time a child is considered to have entered foster care would be scheduled twelve months from the date the child was removed from the home. This practice will assure that hearings are held within the time limits required by federal law. Emergency Removal DFCS does not have the authority to remove a child without the written consent of the parent/legal custodian or order of the court, except in short-term emergency care situations. (See policy 5.1 Investigations: Special Circumstances) If the life of the child is in immediate danger because of maltreatment, and removal must take place without parental or court order, in such situations, removal must be completed by law enforcement officials or a duly authorized officer of the court. Any law enforcement officer has the authority and responsibility to take necessary action to protect children from immediate danger. This authority allows the officer to take a child into custody without a court order. If immediate medical treatment is needed, the officer is further authorized to take the child directly to a medical facility, giving notice of this action promptly to Juvenile Court and DFCS. If a law enforcement officer removes a child, the officer should not expect that DFCS will take placement responsibility for that child without first having a judge’s signed order or the signed approval from a delegated court authority. If any law enforcement agency leaves a child at a DFCS office without having obtained the required legal documentation, DFCS shall immediately initiate procedures to obtain an emergency custody order. Best Interest Determination The SSCM shall consider the “best interests” of the child whenever making recommendations to the court. Whenever a best interest determination is required (at any juvenile court proceeding), the court shall consider and evaluate all of the factors affecting the best interests of the child based on the child’s age and developmental needs. Such factors shall include:
  • 12. Page 12 of 15 1. The physical safety and welfare of the child, including food, shelter, health and clothing; 2. The love, affection, bonding and emotional ties existing between the child and each parent or person available to care for the child; 3. The love, affection, bonding and emotional ties existing between the child and his/her siblings, half siblings and step-siblings and the residence of the other children; 4. The child’s need for permanence, including the child’s need for stability and continuity of relationships with his/her parent, siblings, other relatives and any other person who has provided significant care to the child; 5. The child’s sense of attachments, including his/her sense of security and familiarity, and continuity of affection for the child; 6. The capacity and disposition of each parent or person available to care for the child, to give him/her love, affection and guidance, and to continue the education and rearing of the child; 7. The home environment of each parent or person available to care for the child related to the child’s nurturance and safety; 8. The stability of the family unit and the support systems within the community to benefit the child; 9. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved; 10.The home, school and community history of the child as well as any health or educational special needs of the child; 11.The child’s community ties including church, school and friends; 12.The child’s background and ties including familial, cultural and religious; 13.The least disruptive placement alternative for the child; 14.The uniqueness of every family and child; 15.The risks to entering and being in substitute care; 16.The child’s wishes and long-term goals; 17.The preferences of the persons available to care for the child; 18.Any evidence of family violence, substance abuse, criminal history or sexual, mental or physical child abuse in any current, past or considered home for such child; 19.Any recommendation by a court appointed custody evaluator or Guardian Ad Litem (GAL); and 20.Any other factors considered by the court to be relevant and proper to its determination. Preliminary Protective Hearing The purpose of the preliminary protective hearing is to allow the court to determine whether there is probable cause to believe a child is a dependent child and whether protective custody of a child is necessary to prevent abuse or neglect pending the hearing on the dependency petition. At the preliminary protective hearing, the court informs the parties of: 1. The contents of the complaint; 2. The nature of the proceedings; and 3. The parties’ due process rights, including the parties’ right to: a. An attorney or to an appointed attorney, if they are indigent persons; b. Call witnesses and to cross-examine all witnesses; c. Present evidence; and d. A trial by the court on the allegations in the complaint or petition. At the preliminary protective hearing, the court may: 1. Dismiss the case and return the child to the parent, guardian or legal custodian;
  • 13. Page 13 of 15 2. Return the child to the parent, guardian or legal custodian pending the hearing on the dependency petition; or 3. May place the child in the temporary custody of DFCS pending the hearing on the dependency petition. The judge will hear limited testimony from the parties to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the allegations of dependency are true. Limited hearsay evidence may be allowed with SSCMs having the opportunity to testify to what was told to them by other persons who are not in attendance at the court proceeding. The first order signed by a judge sanctioning the removal of the child must contain the “contrary to the welfare of the child” or “removal from the home is in the best interest of the child” finding. If the preliminary protective hearing order is the first order signed by the judge, the language and finding should be contained in this order. A judicial determination may be made at this time as to whether DFCS has made “reasonable efforts to preserve and reunify families”. Adjudication Hearing The purpose of the adjudication hearing is to determine whether the allegations in the petition are true and if the child is “dependent” under Georgia law. At the adjudication hearing, the issue is whether the child is a dependent child. The judge may not allow hearsay evidence; thus, persons with firsthand knowledge of the matter must personally testify. DFCS bears the burden of proof that the allegations in the petition they filed are true by clear and convincing evidence. If the court finds the allegations in the petition are true, it should make both specific findings of fact and conclusions of law. If the child is found to be dependent, the court may immediately, or within thirty (30) days, make a disposition. A judicial determination must be made at this time and in court orders for later hearings as to whether DFCS is making “reasonable efforts to preserve and reunify families”. If the child is not found dependent, the court shall dismiss the petition and order the child discharged from foster care. The following persons shall have a right to participate in the adjudication hearing: 1. The parent, guardian or legal custodian of the child, unless such person cannot be located or fails to appear despite being notified; 2. The attorney and GAL of the child; 3. The child, unless the court finds that being present is not in the child’s best interests; 4. The attorneys for the parent, guardian or legal custodian of the child; 5. The assigned SSCM; and 6. The SAAG. The following persons may also be present at an adjudication hearing if the court finds it is in the child’s best interest: 1. Any relative or other persons who have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to a child and with whom he/she might be placed; 2. A DFCS employee involved with the case; 3. An advocate as requested by the parent, guardian or legal custodian; 4. Other persons who have knowledge of or an interest in the welfare of the child. Disposition Hearing The disposition hearing is often held immediately following the adjudication hearing, but the court
  • 14. Page 14 of 15 may schedule it at a later date. The purpose of the disposition hearing is to determine what actions and recommendations are in the best interest of the protection and physical, emotional, mental and moral welfare of the child now that he/she has been found “dependent”. The court may consider any evidence, including hearsay evidence. (See policy 3.3 Legal: Court Orders and Placement Authority) Before determining the appropriate disposition, the court shall receive, not less than forty-eight (48) hours prior to the disposition hearing, the following in evidence: 1. The social study report (usually the Comprehensive Child and Family Assessment (CCFA) should suffice); and 2. The child’s proposed written case plan. NOTE: If the court elects to hold the disposition hearing in conjunction with the adjudication hearing, timeframes for submitting the initial case plan, social study and diligent search will be shortened. Thus, the SSCM will need to ensure the case plan and social study are completed and submitted to the court at least 48 hours prior to the disposition hearing and the diligent search is completed before the disposition hearing. The court shall also consider: 1. Any study or evaluation made by the GAL; 2. Any psychological, medical, developmental or educational study or evaluation of the child; and 3. Other relevant evidence, including, but not limited to, the willingness of the caregiver to provide permanency for the child if reunification is not successful. Prior to a disposition hearing and upon request, the parties and their attorneys shall be given an opportunity to examine any written report received by the court. Portions of written reports may be withheld by the court. Parties and their attorneys shall be given the opportunity to dispute written reports and to cross-examine individuals making the reports. At the conclusion of the disposition hearing, the court shall set the time and date for the first periodic review hearing and the permanency plan hearing. Social Study If the allegations of the dependency petition are admitted or after the child is adjudicated dependent, the court may direct a person to complete a written social study and report. In most situations, the CCFA will serve as the social study for the case. A social study shall include, but not be limited to, a factual discussion of the following: 1. The plan for reunification and for achieving permanency for the child if reunification efforts fail; 2. Whether it is in the best interests of the child to grant reasonable visitation rights to his/her other relatives to maintain and strengthen the child’s family relationships; 3. Whether the child has siblings under the court’s jurisdiction, and if so: a. The nature of the relationship between the child and his/her siblings; b. Whether the siblings were raised together in the same home and whether they have shared significant common experiences or have existing strong bonds; c. Whether the child expresses a desire to visit or live with his/her siblings and whether ongoing contact is in the child’s best interest; d. The appropriateness of developing and maintaining sibling relationships;
  • 15. Page 15 of 15 e. If siblings are not placed together, why they are not placed together, the efforts being made to place them together or why those efforts are not appropriate; f. If siblings are not placed together, the frequency and nature of visitation with siblings; g. The impact of the sibling relationship on the child’s placement and planning for legal permanence. 4. The appropriateness of a placement with a relative; and 5. Whether a caregiver desires and is willing to provide permanency for the child if reunification is not successful. FORMS AND TOOLS Courtroom Preceedings Tips for Case Managers Legal Services Request/Report