Juvenile Court Services
The Legal Unit is responsible for assuring the quality of the Agency's written interactions with the Juvenile Court, related legal actions, and facilitating timely and appropriate actions under the Juvenile Act. This includes scheduling hearings, assuring proper and timely notice of the hearings, preparing, filing, and distributing all petitions, reports to the Court and other legal paperwork. In addition, the unit supervisor serves as a liaison to the Juvenile Court.
When the Agency files a petition alleging dependency, there must be a hearing at which all parties (Agency, parents, and child) may present evidence. After the hearing, the Juvenile Court Judge decides whether a child is dependent as defined by the law ("without the proper parental care, control or supervision") and if so, whether the Agency's plan for that child is appropriate. If a child must be placed on an emergency basis before this hearing can take place, there must be a shelter care hearing within 72 hours of that placement. Once a child is found dependent, the Court continues to review the plan at least once every three months until the child is no longer dependent. If any party wants to substantially change the plan before the three month hearing, a special hearing must be scheduled so the Court may approve or disapprove the change. All these hearings may be, and in Dauphin County almost always are, held before a Hearing Examiner, who is an attorney appointed by the Court to hear the evidence and make recommendations to the Juvenile Court Judge.
For children who are in placement, there can be considerable other Court involvement. If a parent is unavailable, it is necessary to request Court permission for things for which parental consent is normally needed. Parents retain certain rights even when children are in Agency custody.
Between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014, 242 dependency petitions were filed with the Court. During that same period, there were 1,564 Juvenile Court (Examiners or Judge) hearings, from emergency shelter care to review, for dependent or alleged dependent children involved with the Agency.