Foster care, a part of the state child welfare system designed to protect abused and neglected children, provides a 24-hour state supervised living arrangement for children who need temporary substitute care because of abuse or neglect. The foster care system in California is a state supervised, county administered system. The California Department of Social Services provides oversight to 58 county child welfare agencies that provide direct administration and supervision of children in the foster care system.
Children are most often placed in foster care after they have been removed from their home by a county child welfare agency, and a juvenile court has found their parents cannot care for them. A child who has been declared a “ward” of the court for committing a violation of law may also be placed in foster care if the court finds that returning the child home would be contrary to the child’s welfare.
Overview of the Juvenile Justice System. Every county child welfare agency must maintain a 24-hour response system to receive and investigate reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. Once a call is received, the agency pursuant to the Emergency Response Protocol must determine if the allegations require an in-person investigation and, if so, whether that investigation must be immediate.
Upon completion of the investigation, the agency must determine whether the allegations are substantiated, inconclusive or unfounded. Based on the risk posed to the child, the agency in all three cases may close the case with or without providing the family with referrals to community organizations for services. If the allegations are substantiated or inconclusive, the agency may keep the case open and offer the family voluntary services to remedy and prevent future abuse or neglect without court intervention. Voluntary services include in home emergency services for up to thirty days or family maintenance services for up to 6 months without removing the child, or voluntary foster care placement services for up to 6 months.
If the allegations are substantiated, the agency may seek court intervention and either:
Dependency proceedings may also be initiated by any person through an application to the county child welfare agency. The agency must immediately investigate to determine whether a dependency petition should be filed in juvenile court and notify the applicant within three weeks after the application of its filing decision and the reasons for the decision. If the agency fails to file a petition, the applicant may, within one month after the initial application, seek review of the decision by the juvenile court.
If the child is removed from his or her parents’ home, the social worker will file a petition with the juvenile court requesting that the court become involved in the child’s life because the child is alleged to be abused or neglected.9 The parents must be given notice of the removal, a telephone contact for the child, and the date, time and place of the detention hearing upon filing of the petition in juvenile court.10 The child will be placed in a foster care setting until the court determines whether the child should remain in placement or should be returned to the parent’s home.