DSS Juvenile Court Info FAQ
Most of the time, child custody is a private issue that involves the child’s parents or other persons very close to the child. But in some situations, when a child has been the victim of abuse, neglect, or dependency, the Department of Social Services gets involved and the matter is heard in a special juvenile court division of the local court system.
The Department of Social Services (“DSS”) is required to investigate if they receive a report that a child has been mistreated. More particularly, DSS is looking for evidence of abuse, neglect, or dependency. Those three terms, as well as a handful of other terms used in the juvenile court room, are defined in the glossary below.
If DSS finds evidence to support the report, the agency will request the parents or caretakers to take measures to fix the particular concern, and may even ask the parents to place the child temporarily with a trusted friend or relative until the area of concern has been alleviated. If the parents or caretakers refuse to cooperate, or if the area of concern is not one that is easily correctable, DSS may file a petition requesting the involvement of the court system. In their petition, DSS will often ask for legal and physical custody of the child, and for the court to order the parents or caretakers to take steps to remedy the situation at home. Examples of such steps include drug and/or alcohol assessment and treatment, parenting classes, domestic violence intervention, counseling and therapy.
In very serious situations, DSS may seek “nonsecure custody” of the child, enabling them to remove the child from his or her home right away in an emergency situation. A hearing is then held within seven (7) days of the nonsecure custody order being signed by a judge.
Parents who find themselves defending an action filed by DSS may request court-appointed counsel, and will be asked by the judge to complete an affidavit regarding their personal finances. The judge will then decide if the parents qualify for court-appointed counsel. Parents also have the choice of seeking private representation. Several of our attorneys have a great deal of experience in the juvenile courtroom and will be happy to speak to you about your particular situation.
Glossary of Juvenile Court Terms:
Abuse – includes inflicting serious injury, inappropriate discipline, sexual abuse or rape, emotional damage, sexual exploitation, and promoting the delinquency of the minor.
Adjudication – an initial hearing in which the judge determines whether the minor child is abused, neglected or dependent. If the child is adjudicated abused, neglected, or dependent, the child’s case then moves to disposition (see below).
Child Protective Services (CPS) – the section of DSS that investigates and monitors situations of abuse, neglect, and dependency.
Department of Social Services (DSS) – a county agency which falls under the management of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, tasked with investigating suspected situations of abuse, neglect, or dependency, and taking further action to protect the children involved when necessary.
Dependent juvenile – a child without a parent or other caretaker to supervise or care for his or her needs.
Disposition – during this phase of the hearing, the judge determines a plan to keep the child safe and what steps the parents or caretakers need to take to correct the situation at home.
Foster care – in cases where a child is removed from his or her home because of abuse, neglect, or dependency, and no relatives are able to take the child in, the child may be placed in either a private home or group home managed by someone who has been trained and approved to provide such temporary care.
Guardian ad litem – a trained volunteer who is appointed to provide his or her opinion and recommendations to the court regarding the best interest of the child.
Guardianship – in some cases, the court determines that a child should not return home and would be better off living with relatives, and the court grants those relatives guardianship of the child.
Juvenile – a child under the age of eighteen (18) who has not been emancipated.
Neglected juvenile – A child who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline, who lives in a dangerous environment, or who has been placed outside of his or her home for care or adoption in a way that violates North Carolina law.
Nonsecure – a term referring to the placement of a child temporarily outside of his or her home. Secure custody refers to a locked facility, whereas nonsecure means just the opposite. A nonsecure custody hearing must be held within seven (7) days after a child is removed from home.
Permanency planning hearing – a hearing to decide on the best permanent plan for the child.
Review hearing – during this hearing, which is held within ninety (90) days of the disposition hearing, the court reviews the plan they put in place during the disposition hearing to see if the plan is working well or if any changes are necessary.
Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) – if a family is unable to remedy the situation that prompted court involvement, and no relatives can serve as guardians, the court may then determine that it is best to terminate the parental rights of the child’s biological parents and place the child with a family for adoption.
Youth and Family Services – the name for the branch of DSS in Mecklenburg County that is responsible for the health, welfare, and safety of children in the county.
Remember that attorneys have a great deal of experience in the juvenile courtroom and will be happy to speak to you about your particular situation.