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Court system guide

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Guide to court system

Guardian ad Litem
A Guardian ad Litem is a volunteer appointed by the court to advocate for the best interests of a child involved in a court proceeding. The volunteer guardian ad litem makes independent recommendations to the court by focusing on the needs and best interests of the child. For more information about guardian ad litem, visit

Working with the court system
If a family is investigated by DCF for child abuse or neglect and the children are found to be in need of protection, a FamiliesFirst Network counselor is assigned to work with the parents and children. Our counselors work to help families solve problems that are causing an unsafe situation for the children. They may refer the family for services such as therapy, parenting classes, mental health and substance abuse treatment, domestic violence counseling, and medical and dental care for children. The counselor will visit with the parents and children at least once a month, usually in the home. FamiliesFirst Network is also responsible for supervising licensed shelter and foster homes, as well as relative and approved non-relative homes where dependent children are placed if removed from the parents. Our counselors must make regular written reports to the court about the children and the progress of the parents under the case plan. Counselors must meet specific educational requirements prior to being hired, and also receive training and accreditation from DCF.

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Types of court hearings

24-hour shelter hearing: At this hearing, the court decides if there is “probable cause” that the children need the continuing protection of the court. If the children have been removed from the home, the court also decides whether the children should continue to be removed, and if so, where they should be placed temporarily. This could be with an approved relative or non-relative, or with a licensed foster parent. The court may also appoint an attorney for the parents at the shelter hearing.

Arraignment hearing:

At this hearing, the parents are given the chance to admit, deny or consent to the dependency petition. If a parent has received notice of the arraignment hearing and does not appear, the parent shall be considered to have consented to dependency.

Adjudicatory hearing:

At this hearing, the evidence is presented to the court to show that the child has been abused, neglected or abandoned by the parents. If the court finds that dependency has been proven, the court then adjudicates the child dependent and schedules a disposition hearing.

Disposition hearing:

At this hearing, if the children continue to be removed, the court determines where the children shall be placed on a longer term basis, as well as what the parents and counselor must do in order for the children to be returned or for the case to be closed.

Judicial review hearings:

These hearings are held at least every 6 months for the purpose of reporting to the court the welfare of the children and the progress of the parents under the case plan.

Permanency hearing:

This hearing is held before the end of the 12th month a child has been removed from the home. The purpose is to decide whether the child should be reunified with the parents, or whether some other permanent arrangement, such as termination of parental rights and adoption, or long-term relative or non-relative custody, should be made for the child.

Other hearings may depend on circumstances. Parents should ask their attorney for more details.