Juvenile Dependency
Juvenile Dependency proceedings are initiated when it is believed that the children have been abused or neglected. The office of County Council files a petition to make these children wards of the court. These proceedings are governed the by California Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 et, seq. If there is a finding of wrongdoing on behalf of the parents, or if the court believes that the children are at risk,  it will assert jurisdiction over the children.  In plain English, that means that the court has the authority to make decisions regarding the placement and care of these children, while their parents go through rehabilitation. Parental rights are suspended during this interim period.
When the juvenile court asserts jurisdiction over these children, the parents are placed on a reunification program, and are given county services in order to enable them to reunite with their children. These services include therapy, anger management, addiction and substance abuse prevention, and other similar services. The parents have from twelve (12) to eighteen (18) months to complete the program. If they are successful, they are reunited with their children and the court terminates its jurisdiction. If they are unsuccessful, a court will make orders regarding permanent placement of the children.

Permanent placement will encompass one of three options: 1) long term foster care, 2) placement with a legal guardian, or 3) adoption. In long term foster care, parental rights are not terminated. Thus, a parent who fails to reunify with his or her children under the original reunification plan, may still work towards doing so at a later time.  When children are placed with a legal guardian, the parental rights of the biological parents are suspended, but not terminated. The children live with the guardian, and the guardian makes all decisions regarding their health, education and welfare. Legal guardianships automatically terminate when the children reach eighteen years of age. Proceedings may be initiated to terminate legal guardianships at an earlier time, depending upon the circumstances. In situations involving adoption, the parental rights of the biological parents are terminated.

I spent my first eight years of practice representing parties in dependency proceedings in California. I represented parties from all sides of the spectrum, including parents, foster-adopt parents, legal guardians, and children. Thus, I understand these proceedings from all angles. Thus, I am an effective advocate for anyone who is a party in a dependency proceeding.

Parents
Due to the severity of the potential long-term consequences, it is important that parents who are parties to a dependency proceeding hire an experienced dependency lawyer who can help them navigate through the system. They should be represented at every level of the proceedings, from the initial jurisdictional hearing, up to and through the final hearing to either terminate parental 
rights, or to terminate the courts jurisdiction.
Several important decisions must be made early on,  which may effect the final outcome.  First and foremost, a decision must be made regarding placement of the children,  when they are initially taken into protective custody.  In general, they will either be placed in a foster home or with suitable relatives, while their parents go through rehabilitation.  The placement decision is crucial and could affect whether they will ultimately reunite with their biological parents, remain in long term foster care,  be placed with legal guardians, or be adopted.

Secondly, the allegations of the Petition must be addressed.  An experienced dependency lawyer will know whether to negotiate the terms of the Petition and the reunification plan, or whether the clients should contest the courts initial assumption of jurisdiction and go to trial.

Foster-Adopt Parents and Caregivers-De Facto Parent Status
I also represent care takers and foster-adopt parents.  Foster parents who have taken children into their homes and who have been responsible for their daily care, often develop strong bonds with these children.  The children become a member of their family.  Therefore, the law now recognizes that foster parents have acquired an interest in the continual well being of these children.  Accordingly, foster parents and care givers may now petition the court for “De Facto Parent” status.  That status gives them legal “standing” to participate in future court proceedings regarding the continued care, custody and placement of children who have been in their care for a period of time.

I represent foster parents and caretakers in their petitions to establish De Facto parent status.  Once that status is granted, if the foster parent is interested in adopting these children, I can also represent them through the adoption process.

Legal Guardians
I also represent legal guardians in proceedings to terminate guardianships.  As explained above, legal guardianships terminate when a child reaches 18 years of age.  However, in some cases, a guardianship may terminate earlier if a petition is filed to terminate the guardianship.  Generally, such petitions are filed by the biological parents, who have been out of their children's lives for a substantial period of time.  I represent legal guardians who are against termination of the guardianship and who want the children to remain in their homes.