Patricia E. Black Child Welfare Lawyer

Patricia E. Black, Child Welfare Lawyer

Child Welfare Law, also known as Dependency law in California, refers to a body of state and federal laws that apply when a child has been removed, or is at risk of being removed from his home due to allegations against a parent of abuse or neglect. When someone makes a report about the safety of a child the police or county social worker must investigate. A decision must be made as to whether the juvenile court should get involved and take “jurisdiction” over the child. The court will decide whether the child should be removed from his or her home, placing the responsibility for the child’s health, education, and care with the local county social services agency. The court may also decide that the child may remain in the home under court supervision. The goal of the child welfare system is to reunite children and parents and to preserve families wherever possible.

These circumstances obviously present a critical juncture in the life of a child.  An experienced child welfare lawyer is needed to ensure that the best interests of the child are fully considered in the unfolding process.

When the juvenile court takes jurisdiction over a child, each parent has the right to have a lawyer represent his or her interests in court. The child also has a right to a child welfare lawyer, and one will be appointed by the court.

The law requires that child protection agencies provide reasonable services to the parent in order for the parent to address the issues that brought the matter to the attention of the authorities. These services may include drug or mental health treatment, parenting classes, domestic violence workshops and a myriad of other services that should be tailored to meet the unique needs of the parent and to promote safe reunification.

A parent does not have an unlimited time in which to address his issues and reunify with his child. Depending on the age of the child, a parent may have between six and twenty-four months from the date of removal to complete court ordered services and show the judge that the conditions that brought the matter to the attention of the authorities no longer exist.

Not every parent has a right to reunify with his child. There are situations in which the Human Services Agency can seek to “bypass” a parent for services given the parent’s lack of participation in a prior case or based upon the severity of the allegations of abuse or neglect. Additionally, a father must establish that he is the legal or presumed father of the child in order to receive services.

Where a child is removed from a parent’s care, the child should, ideally, be placed in the care of someone familiar- a relative or a family friend, known under California law as a “NREFM” or a non-related extended family member, to minimize the trauma experienced when a child enters the foster care system.

Should a parent fail to reunify with his child within the legal timelines, reunification services will be terminated and the court’s focus is solely on the best interests of the child. At this time the juvenile dependency court must order a permanent plan for the child and considers, in order of legal preference, adoption, legal guardianship or an Approved Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA), which could include long term foster care.

As a child welfare lawyer and a Certified Child Welfare Law Specialist accredited by the State Bar of California, Patricia E. Black is intimately familiar with legal procedures that may dictate the outcome of the parent-child relationship at this important time.