Generally, under state laws, a family is given wide discretion to raise its children. However, when a child is being abused or neglected, or is in danger of abuse or neglect, or simply has no parent available to parent the child, the State has the power to step in to protect the child. This power is generally defined in RCW 13.34 and is known as the dependency process.
72-hour Shelter Care Hearing
If a child is taken into care by the State, a judge or commissioner must determine whether it is safe for the child to remain in the home. The hearing must be held within 72 hours (exclusive of weekends and holidays) of the child coming into care. The focus of the 72-hour shelter care hearing is to protect the child and offer alternatives for the parent to address the concerns which led to the child’s removal.
30-day Shelter Care Hearing
Each 30 days, unless the case is dismissed, or a Dependency is established, the court reviews each case to see whether conditions have changed for the family. The court may also order additional services for the parent and child. The parties can agree not to have a second hearing. In this case, the court still must approve the agreement in a written order.
Dependency Fact-finding Hearing
A fact-finding hearing is generally held within 75 days of filing a dependency petition. The parties can present evidence to the court, including witness testimony, to prove or disprove the allegations. The parties may enter an agreed order of dependency, rather than having a fact finding trial.
After the fact-finding hearing, the court will issue an order. The order will say whether the child will be returned home or remain in the custody of a suitable party or relative, or to the state and be in foster care. It will also say what services the parents are to complete and what the Children's Administration must do to support parents in completing requirements.
Permanency Planning Hearing
A permanency planning hearing is held between nine and 12 months after the child is placed in out-of-home care. The purpose of the hearing is for the Court to establish a plan for permanency for the child. If the child remains in out-of-home care, permanency planning hearings are held every 12 months to decide what is best for the child.
Permanency Plans of Care / Termination of Parental Rights / Fact-Finding Hearing
If a child is not able to safely return home in a reasonable time, the State must find another permanent home for the child. Federal guidelines require the social worker to file a petition to terminate parental rights after 12 consecutive months of the child being in foster care. Other permanent plans include adoption, non-parental custody or guardianship.
Until such point as a termination trial is pursued, the goal is to reunite the family as long as the child is safe.