Guide to Dependency Court – For Caregivers

If a child you are related to or for whom you provide care gets involved in a dependency case, you may have rights. Generally, grandparents, extended family members, and close family friends have one very important right – they get preference when the social worker decides where the child should live, as long as they are willing to care for the child and the social worker and the court finds they are an appropriate placement.

Relatives may also have the right to get official notice of some court hearings from the court and social worker. If you are a close relative or friend of the family, however, you are likely to find out about the dependency case before the social worker has a chance to contact you.

Important: When you hear that your relative is involved in a dependency case, you should contact the social services department in your county right away. Click to contact your county’s social services department.

In dependency cases, a relative is someone related to the child by blood or adoption. You will be considered a relative if you are a sibling, step-parent, step-sibling, or great or grand relative (like a grandparent or great grandparent).

Close family friends and “nonrelative extended family members” may also be entitled to have the child placed in their care. A “nonrelative extended family member” is an adult caregiver who has a family-like or mentoring relationship with the child.

If a child you are related to is taken from his parents, the child could be placed in your care before the first court hearing, or soon after the first court hearing. For this to happen, you must tell the social worker that you want to have the child placed with you. If you do not have the social worker’s phone number click for a list of each county’s social services agency.

Important: If you want the judge to place the child in your care, you must come forward. The law says that social workers and the court must consider placing a child with relatives before considering placing the child with a non-related person. BUT the court and social worker will not consider relatives unless they come forward and let the social worker know. Make sure to contact the social worker; don’t wait for the social worker to contact you!

After you say that you want the child placed with you, the social worker will do an inspection of your home. The social worker will also do a criminal background check of you and any other adults in your home, and will check for allegations of child abuse or neglect. If your home is safe and you have nothing more than minor traffic violations on your record, the child may be placed with you. If you, or someone in your home, has a criminal history the social worker may not be able to place the child with you. Some counties will waive the criminal history requirement depending on the crime and how long ago the conviction took place. Talk to the social worker in the case or a lawyer to find out more about your county’s requirements.

If the child is placed with you, you can tell the court how the child is doing in your care. To do this, you can use the Caregiver Information Form (Form JV-290).

Whether or not the child is placed with you, you can use the Relative Information (Form JV-285) to give the court information about the child.

If your grandchild is not placed with you, the social worker will make a recommendation to the judge about whether or not you should visit with your grandchild. The judge is required to consider letting you visit your grandchild. If the judge thinks it would be best for the child to visit with you, then she will make an order allowing you to visit with your grandchild.

The judge will make this decision based on the information in the social worker’s report and any other information the judge has heard during the court hearings. It is important to remember that the judge does not have to let you visit with your grandchild.

Children removed from their homes have the right to visit their siblings, half-siblings, and adult siblings. The sibling, half-sibling, or adult sibling of a child who has been removed from his home can use a Request to Change Court Order (Form JV-180) to ask the court to recognize the sibling relationship and give the sibling visitation with the child who has been removed. The court must allow siblings to visit if it is in the best interest of the child who has been removed.

An adult sibling can also use the Request to Change Court Order (Form JV-180) to ask the court to have his or her sibling placed in his or her care.

If you are a child that has been removed from your home click to read the Guide to Dependency Court – For Children for more information about your rights to have a relationship with your siblings.

Within 30 days of taking a child from his home, the social worker must send notice of the dependency case to all grandparents, adult siblings, and other adult relatives.

This notice must include:

  • That the child has been removed from his or her parents or guardian;

  • Information about providing care and placement for the child while the family receives reunification services with the goal of returning the child to the parent or guardian;

  • How to become a foster family home or approved relative or nonrelative extended family member;

  • Additional services and supports that are available in out-of-home placements; information regarding the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Payment Program (Kin-Gap), the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program from approved relatives, and Adoption Assistance Program;

  • Options for contact with the child, like visitation and other options; and,

  • The rights and options that the relatives may lose if they do not respond to the notice.

Grandparents will also be notified if there is a court hearing for a permanent plan and the child’s parents’ whereabouts and address are unknown. The court makes a permanent plan for the child only if the parents have failed to get the child back in their care. The permanent plan could be adoption, legal guardianship, or long-term foster care.