The Department of Social Services can become involved in your life in a variety of ways. It may be from an anonymous tip, referral from your child’s school or daycare, or law enforcement. DSS will begin an investigation to determine whether there is reason to believe that your child is either abused, neglected or dependent. The terms abused, neglected, or dependent all have specific meanings in the context of a juvenile case and are defined by statute. These terms can include inappropriate discipline, lack of proper care, lack of supervision, lack of medical care, or placing a child in an environment in which the child is at a substantial risk of harm. Often, DSS will cite domestic violence, substance abuse, or a parent’s instability as allegations to support a dangerous home environment for a child.

If DSS concludes that the child is either abused, neglected, or dependent, DSS will file a petition with the court asking the court to adjudicate the child as abused, neglected or dependent and to put into place formal measures to protect the child. As a parent, you may feel that you have started off behind because DSS has had the opportunity to perform an investigation and gather evidence against you without you having the benefit of counsel. It is critical to confer with counsel at the earliest opportunity so that you can hopefully avoid the filing of a petition and the necessity of an adjudication hearing. If you have not had that opportunity, and you find yourself facing an adjudication hearing, it is paramount to discuss the allegations and statutory definitions of abuse, neglect, and dependency with counsel as soon as possible.

An adjudication hearing is where the judge listens to evidence and testimony from both DSS and both parents to determine whether the allegations made in the petition are true. An adjudication hearing is a trial and the rules of evidence apply. It is the burden of DSS to prove that the allegations are true by clear and convincing evidence. DSS is not permitted to present evidence outside of the petition. As a parent or caretaker, you are entitled to counsel and will be appointed an attorney if you cannot afford counsel. It is imperative to have counsel at this stage as the allegations can relate to an ongoing criminal investigation or criminal charge. As a parent and defendant, it is critical to know how certain evidence and testimony can affect further criminal proceedings. As a parent, it is critical to know how an adjudication of one child may affect other children in your home.

Like most facets of the juvenile system, the adjudication hearing is constrained by certain timelines. An adjudication hearing must occur within sixty days of the date of filing the petition.

If the judge finds the allegations to be true, the judge will address both parent’s and the child’s needs in a dispositional hearing. To be frank, if a child is adjudicated, DSS will continue to be involved in both your life as well as your child’s. If the judge does not find that the allegations are true, the judge will dismiss the petition and not be able to take any further actions.

The attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are capable and ready to handle the most challenging adjudication cases with the Department of Social Services. We are experienced professionals who care about what happens to you and your child. For help with this or any other family law matters contact us or please call (704) 370-2828. You can also click here for additional resources.