The fact finding hearing is a trial at which CPS or ACS will try to prove that abuse or neglect have occurred. If ACS or CPS fails to prove at least one of the allegations, the petition will be dismissed.
ACS or CPS may only introduce evidence of events that occurred on or before the date the petition was filed. However, if new allegations arise during the CPS or ACS investigation, the agency can amend the petition to include those allegations as well so that evidence of those allegations can be introduced at the fact finding.
Evidence introduced at the fact finding hearing must be material, relevant and competent. The rules of evidence are slightly modified in child protective fact finding hearings.
In order for a person to be found to have abused or neglected a child, CPS or ACS must prove their case by introducing evidence that shows that abuse or neglect has occurred by “a preponderance of the evidence”.
What Happens If The Court Finds That I Have Abused Or Neglected My Child?
If the agency has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that abuse or neglect occurred, the Court will schedule a “Dispositional Hearing”. The purpose of the hearing is to decide the next steps of the case. Will the child be returned to the parents? Placed in foster care? Placed in kinship foster care?
The Court can also order the parents or other caregivers to participate in programs in order to help the parent learn skills to prevent future abuse or neglect. These programs can include mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, parenting courses, or supervised visitation with the child. The programs assigned to a parent are different for every case.
At the dispositional hearing, the evidence introduced must be material and relevant. Any new facts or occurrences that happened after the fact finding hearing may be considered by the Court. Based on the evidence presented at the dispositional hearing, the Court will determine the next steps in the case that will serve the best interests of the child.
What Happens After The Dispositional Hearing?
After the dispositional hearing, the parents must comply with all of the programs ordered by the Court. If the parents do not comply, and the child is in foster care, ACS or CPS may file a petition for permanent neglect and seek to terminate the parents’ parental rights to the child.
Permanent Neglect And Termination Of Parental Rights
A petition for permanent neglect may be filed by the agency if the following requirements of Family Court Act Section 614 are met:
- the child is a person under eighteen years of age;
- the child is in the care of an authorized agency;
- the authorized agency has made diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship and specifying the efforts made or that such efforts would be detrimental to the best interests of the child and specifying the reasons therefor;
- the parent or custodian, notwithstanding the agency’s efforts, has failed for a period of either at least one year or fifteen out of the most recent twenty-two months following the date such child came into the care of an authorized agency substantially and continuously or repeatedly to maintain contact with or plan for the future of the child, although physically and financially able to do so; and
- the best interests of the child require that the guardianship and custody of the child be committed to an authorized agency or to a foster parent authorized to originate this proceeding under section one thousand eighty-nine of this act.
The agency may also bring a petition to terminate parental rights if a parent abandons a child or if the parent suffers from a mental condition that prevents the parent from properly caring for the child in the future.
Permanent neglect proceedings follow the same general procedure as the initial petition for abuse and neglect. An initial appearance, fact finding hearing, and dispositional hearing will be scheduled in a permanent neglect case.
What Is A Permanency Hearing?
The Court will review the “permanency plan” for all children in foster care within 8 months of the initial removal and every 6 months after the first hearing.
A permanency plan is the plan for the child’s future going forward. A permanency plan for a child may be adoption, or may be reunification with the parents.
At the permanency hearing, the agency will inform the Court about the status of the permanency plan, whether the goals of the plan are being met, and how the child is doing. The Judge may ask that the parents, attorneys, the child, and the foster parents be present at the hearing to give updates on the child’s progress.