The California Welfare and Institutions Code, starting at section 300, sets forth the legal requirements, process and objectives for Dependency Court. Dependency matters are filed with the Court when there are reports that children have been abandoned, abused or neglected by their parent(s) or legal guardian. These cases are also filed with the Court when parents or legal guardians are unable or unwilling to care for their children.
The objectives of Dependency Court are to:
- Protect the health and safety of minor children;
- Preserve families, whenever possible;
- Provide placement of children with a relative, foster family, group home or an adoptive parent if it is determined to be in their best interest.
The Welfare and Institutions Code, starting at section 602, describes the Court's jurisdiction over misdemeanors and felonies committed by minors (persons under 18 years of age.) For certain serious crimes, the law currently provides the possibility of trying juveniles as adults in the Adult Criminal Court.
Parents or guardians have the right to receive a copy of the delinquency petition, stating the delinquent acts the child is accused of committing. The petition does not prove that the minor committed these acts and there will be opportunities at court hearings to present evidence regarding the minor's involvement in the alleged criminal acts.
For those who cannot afford legal representation for their children, the Court will appoint an attorney. Please note that this attorney represents the child only and will not represent the parents or guardians.
The objectives of the Delinquency Court are to:
- Protect the minor;
- Give guidance to the minor;
- Punish minors who commit delinquent acts, and;
- Ensure the safety of the community.
If a minor becomes a ward of the Delinquency Court, the Court will make orders for the parents or guardians and the minor. The minor may be allowed to live in the parents' or guardians' home under Court supervision or may be placed outside of the home in an unlocked or locked facility. The factors that the Court will consider in making this determination include the child's age, the seriousness of the offense, and the history of delinquency.