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Monday July 3, 2017

posted by Thomas A. Ebendorf
Tags: In the news 

Every day in Jefferson County, one of the ten Family Courts receives petitions alleging that a child is abused, neglected or dependent. These cases, known as DNA cases, begin when a petition, usually filed by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, is brought to the Court and the Court is asked to consider removing the child from the parents or current custodian in order to ensure that the child is safe and secure. This first appearance is called a Temporary Removal Hearing. At this hearing, the Court will appoint an attorney to represent the child. This attorney is known as a Guardian Ad Litem (or GAL). The Court will also ensure that the parents have attorneys appointed to represent their interests and rights. The Court will then consider the evidence presented by an Assistant County Attorney and decide whether or not it will be necessary to remove the child from the custodian or parents on a temporary basis. If the child is removed, the preferred placement will be to give temporary custody to a qualified relative but if that is not possible, to a foster care home. The goal of all DNA proceedings is to return a child that has been removed back to the parents or custodian as soon as possible if it can be done in a safe and secure manner.

If the child is removed from the home, the Court will usually enter a number of Orders designed to provide services necessary to correct any concerns about safety and security and the parents or custodian will be advised to cooperate with the Cabinet for Health and Family Service in order to complete the provided services. If the child is not removed, the Court may still order some services to ensure that the child’s safety and security will be improved. After the preliminary orders are put in place, the Court will then pass this case to a Pretrial Conference.

The Pretrial Conference, which is usually held within 45 days of the Temporary Removal Hearing, will evaluate the progress or lack thereof in determining whether to return the child or if there needs to be some new protections put in place. It is possible to avoid a Trial, but if tasks remain incomplete the Court will likely set a Trial date which will represent the third appearance on this case before the Court.

When the case comes to Trial, the custodian or parents will be given an opportunity to avoid a trial by entering into a stipulation of facts which will be accepted by the Court in lieu of a trial or the case can go to trial. The burden is on the County Attorney to prove by a preponderance of evidence that there were acts of abuse, neglect or dependency effecting the child. If the County Attorney proves its case, the Court will so find, enter its Order, and set the matter for a fourth hearing referred to as Disposition. At the Disposition the Court will review the progress that has been made toward the goal of return of the child to the parents or custodian. If progress has not been made and the Court cannot conclude that the child can be safely and securely returned to the parents or custodian, it is likely that the child will remain in the custody of the approved relative or foster care home and the parents may be facing the possibility of a future case to terminate their parental rights.

The Court does not usually keep these cases on the docket for more than one year. It is imperative that parents or custodians facing a dependency, neglect or abuse case secure appropriate legal representation to increase their odds of resolving the case favorably to them.