Demystifying Dependency Court: How CPS Decision Making and Family Court Are Supposed To Work

familySomething has happened and CPS is now involved in your life or you are a friend or family member of parent. You have been contacted by CPS to take placement of the parent’s child until CPS can complete an investigation. This article explores the four court processes associated with Dependency Court and explains what CPS should be presenting to the judge:


  1. The Preliminary Protective Hearing (PPH)

This is the hearing that is held within 72 hours of children being removed from the parent. As we have explained in prior articles, parents DO NOT generally have attorneys at this hearing. In order to present its case at this hearing, CPS must have initiated and assessed for “present danger.” This means that CPS is looking to determine whether there are active threats in the home that pose an immediate threat to child safety. If CPS cannot article an active threat to the child and show the court that the threat is putting the child in immediate danger, the children should be returned to the parent.


  1. Plea Hearing and Adjudication

Since the standard for removing children from parents is so low, it is unlikely that CPS will return your children at the time of the preliminary protective hearing. It is likely the matter will proceed to a plea hearing. For this hearing, an attorney should be appointed. During the time between the PPH and the plea, CPS will determine whether your children are unsafe. CPS will also be considering whether your family is in need of services to make your children safe and whether it is necessary for the Court to stay involved in order to provide these services. CPS should present a parent whose children are removed the opportunity to come up with a safety plan so that the children can return home and if a safety plan cannot be developed, CPS should explain to a parent what they need to do in order to bring their children home also known as “Conditions for Return.”

  1. Dispositional Hearing and Case Plan

picking-a-school-for-your-kidsafter-a-divorceThe dispositional hearing and case plan occur after a plea has been entered or the court has determined that the children are unsafe and cannot return home without a safety plan. At the time of the dispositional hearing, CPS must explain to the Court what the parent must do and changes the parent must make in order to bring the children home. CPS will assess the parent for their readiness to change and will explain the goals of the case plan to the court. Finally, CPS will determine the types of services the parent needs to make these changes. By this time, parents should have attorneys and should consult with their attorneys about the goals of the case plan and the services the parent needs to accomplish those goals. It is important for parents to remember that if they don’t meet the goals of the case plan, CPS can ask that the parent’s rights be terminated.

  1. Review and Permanency Hearing

These hearings are required, by law, every 6 months once the court has taken wardship over a child. In the 6 month period, CPS will consider a parent’s progress towards their case plan goals. CPS will assess the parent’s readiness to make changes and determine whether the services offered are effective. CPS will also look to close cases if the case plan goals are achieved. During this time, it is important to determine whether the goals of the case plan are realistic and working for the parent. It is also important to determine whether the services CPS is providing are helping the parent. If the services are not working then the goals of the case plan and the services need to be changed. Consulting with your attorney about the goals and services is important to keep the State from terminating your rights.


We hope this information has been helpful and has provided a broad overview of the role of CPS at each step of the Court process in dependency court. If you or someone you know has had a child removed by CPS, call a qualified dependency attorney today to make sure your rights are not violated.