People tend to think that if it involves children, custody, and families in general it’s Family Law. If it’s brought by the State and involves abuse or neglect, they assume it’s Criminal Law. However, when the Department of Social Services (DSS) gets involved in matters of child abuse or neglect, it’s a whole new ball game. This is where Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) begins.

CINA proceedings are very different. Four attorneys are typically involved in a CINA case. One attorney represents the DSS through the Social Worker assigned to the case.  A second attorney represents and consults with the child and assesses his/her current living placement.  An additional two attorneys may be involved as Defense Counsel for each parent.

DSS brings these cases to court when they have reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected, or the child has a developmental disability or mental illness and the parent has not been providing care for the child. The following day after the DSS becomes involved, a Shelter Care Hearing is scheduled. At the Hearing, if the Court agrees with DSS, then the child will be found CINA and committed temporarily to the care of DSS for no less than thirty days.

After thirty days, an adjudication and disposition hearing will commence. At an adjudication hearing, the court will determine if the facts in the CINA petition submitted by DSS are true. At a disposition hearing, the court will determine if the child is a CINA. At disposition, the court may order that the child be returned home with some conditions, placed in foster care, or award custody and guardianship to someone who is able to care for the child, preferably a relative.

Typically, the adjudication and disposition hearings are held on the same day. However, the parties can decide to bifurcate and hold an adjudication hearing first with the disposition hearing to be held at a later date. When a child is found CINA, the permanency plan is reunification with the parent within one year, except for cases with more extreme abuse or neglect.

After a year outside the parent’s care, a Permanency Plan hearing takes place to determine if the plan should remain reunification or if it should change to Custody and Guardianship by a relative or non-relative, such as the foster parent. Permanency Plan hearings continue every six months until the plan is achieved.  Finally, if the court orders an adoption, then a Termination of Parental Rights hearing will be scheduled.

If you are a parent facing a CINA proceeding, don’t go through it alone. The Attorneys at JM Blattner, LLC, are well equipped to guide you and advocate for you throughout this process.