What Is Juvenile Dependency?

What Is Juvenile Dependency?

If your child has been removed from your care and a dependency petition is filed by the courts, you may be confused or frightened. You may be unsure of what to do next or who to go to after being accused of child neglect or abuse. You might even be wondering what juvenile dependency is and what the process entails.

What Is a Juvenile Dependency?

In Arizona, juvenile dependency is a court process that decides whether or not a child becomes a ward of the court.

This is outlined in the Arizona Revised Statutes § 8-201, which defines a dependent child as one who:

  • Does not have proper parental care and control, or they do not have a willing and able parent or guardian.
  • Is not being provided with life necessities such as food, housing, clothing, and medical care.
  • Comes from a home that is unfit because of abuse, neglect, or cruelty.
  • Is under the age of eight and has committed a crime that would cause any older child to be considered a delinquent.
  • Is not rehabilitated after committing a serious offense.

What Does Dependency of a Child Mean?

Dependency is the legal designation for a child’s status if they meet the above qualifications. Usually, children are dependent on their parents, but during the court process, a child might temporarily become dependent on the state.

Establishing dependency is often the first step towards the termination of parental rights (a process also known as severance. The next step is establishing new guardianship for the child.

What Are the Grounds for the Department of Child Safety (DCS) To Remove a Child?

The Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) is the state agency responsible for protecting children from abuse and neglect, providing support and services to families, and overseeing the foster care system.

DCS is only allowed to remove a child from a home if there is a substantial risk of harm to the child. There must be evidence that the child is in danger of being physically abused, sexually abused, neglected, abandoned, or emotionally harmed if they remain in the care of their parents or guardians. If there is no imminent harm, DCS must get a court order before the child can be removed.

The Dependency Process

DCS must get a court order before the child can be removed

Every juvenile dependency hearing begins with the DCS receiving a report of possible neglect or abuse of a child. This will trigger a DCS investigator to look into the situation and either remove the child or serve a temporary custody notice to their parent(s).

Team Decision Making Meeting (TDM)

DCS will typically hold a TDM meeting within seventy-two hours of the removal of the child. A TDM provides the parents and DCS an opportunity to meet and discuss concerns, possible placement issues, and any services that may help their situation. DCS is required to make reasonable efforts to reunify the family while still prioritizing the safety and well-being of the child.

The parent is encouraged to bring support to the TDM, like their spouse or partner, relatives, school contacts, friends, caregivers, neighbors, members of their church community, therapists/counselors, tribal or consulate representatives, and/or military support.

Dependency Petition

If the child is not returned to their family within 72 hours, DCS will request that a dependency petition be filed through the Attorney General. This petition will request that the child be found a dependent ward of the state. After filing, the court will schedule a pre-hearing conference and a preliminary protective hearing, and it will appoint attorneys for the parents and a guardian ad litem for the children. The hearing will take place five to seven days after the removal.

Pre-Hearing Conference

The pre-hearing conference begins with the parents meeting with their attorneys to discuss the case. The goal is to resolve issues regarding custody, placement, and potential visitation.

Initial Hearing

An initial hearing is scheduled 21 days after the dependency petition. This allows the parents to respond to the allegations. If the parents deny them, the court will schedule a trial, in which the state must prove that the children are dependent and need the state to take over care.

Before the trial hearing, the court may schedule a settlement conference with a mediator to attempt to resolve matters cooperatively.


A trial will happen within 90 days of the dependency petition. The state is represented by the Attorney General’s office, which must prove the child has not been adequately cared for or abused. The state will bring the testimony of the DCS investigator, the police, or even those close to the child, such as family or friends. The parents can then deny the allegations and call witnesses on their behalf.

If the parents are found to be fit, the children will be returned to their custody. If the child is found to be a dependent of the court, the process will continue with a Disposition hearing.

What Happens When a Child Is Found To Be a Dependent of the Court?

A disposition hearing will be held within 30 days of the trial to determine where the child will be placed. The court will also create a case plan that includes long-term goals such as reunifying the family or severance and adoption and outline services the parents and child will receive.

During the disposition, the court will order the parent to comply with the case plan. They might have to go to counseling, take drug tests, work with a parent mentor or aide, and visit with their child since the goal of DCS is usually to reunify the child with its parent.

Report and Review

After around six months of the disposition hearing, the court will hold a Report and Review hearing where the court will review the parent’s progress. The child may be returned to their parent at this hearing if the parent has progressed to the court’s satisfaction.

Permanency Planning Hearing

This hearing is for a judge to review the case and the parent’s progress and decide what the most appropriate permanency plan for the child should be. The state might request the case plan to be changed to severance and adoption or set additional hearings to continue monitoring the parent’s progress.


Severance is when the court orders to permanently terminate a parent’s right to their child.

Terminating a parent’s right to their children requires the court to establish grounds for termination, which can consist of the following:

  • The parent did not maintain regular contact with or provide support for their child.
  • The parent abused, neglected, or did not protect their child.
  • The parent has a mental deficiency, illness, or substance use disorder, which causes an inability to care for their child.
  • The parent has become incarcerated for a minimum of two years, meaning they cannot parent for that time.
  • The parent failed to file a paternity action.
  • The parent consented to the adoption of their child.
  • The parent did not or refused to follow through with their case plan or services for nine months or if they did not fix the situation while participating in services after 15 months.
  • The child has been removed from the home in the last eighteen months, and it is in the child’s best interest to terminate the parent’s rights.

Appealing a Dependency or Severance Decision

Parents may appeal a dependency or severance decision. Some potential grounds for appealing may include legal errors, insufficient evidence, the best interests of the child, and ineffective legal counsel.

The Court of Appeals does not review the evidence or listen to new testimony. It only reviews the records to determine if there were any mistakes. They will always presume the court acted correctly and will only overrule if there was a clear mistake in the law or procedure.

Who Is Involved in a Child Dependency Court Process?

The Court of Appeals

The child dependency court process includes a wide range of people, all working to protect the child’s safety and well-being, promoting the reunification of the family, and ensuring a fair legal process. They are:


The judge presides over the dependency proceedings and makes decisions based on the evidence presented.


Usually, there is legal representation for parents or legal guardians who advocate for their rights and present their case. The child will also have an attorney who represents their best interests and ensures their voice is heard.


The DCS is responsible for investigating reports of child abuse or neglect. They will initiate dependency proceedings when necessary and provide recommendations to the court about the child’s placement and care.

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

CASAs are volunteers appointed by the court to advocate for the child’s best interests. They conduct independent investigations and make recommendations to the court.

Foster Parents or Caregivers

Foster Parents or Caregivers

The foster parents or caregivers are the people who provide temporary care for the child. In some instances, these individuals may apply for permanent guardianship.

Guardian ad Litem

This court-appointed individual represents the child’s best interests independently of their parents or guardians. They are charged with participating in the hearings and making recommendations to the court.

Service Providers

Service providers include counselors, therapists, and other professionals who offer support and services to address the child and their family’s needs.

Parents’ Rights

In Arizona, A.R.S. 8-809 states that DCS must give parents information to help them understand what happens when their child is taken from their home. They must also be provided information to understand their rights under A.R.S. 8-809.01.

At the first interaction with DCS, if you are a parent, guardian, or custodian who is being investigated for alleged abuse or neglect, you have the the right to:

  • Be informed of the specifics of the allegations and that anything you say may be used in a court proceeding.
  • Receive information about the investigation and DCS’ decision-making process.
  • Not cooperate with the investigation or receive support or services offered to you.
  • Deny the investigator entry into your home unless they have a court mandate.
  • Seek advice from an attorney and have them present when questioned by an investigator.
  • Respond to allegations verbally or written and have the response considered in determining if your child requires intervention from DCS.
  • Refuse to sign a release of information, not take a drug or alcohol test, or take a mental health evaluation.
  • Appeal any determinations made by DCS.
  • Know these rights and other parental rights you have under state law and provide written acknowledgment that you received information on these rights.
  • Report a violation of the rights without worrying about being punished, stopped, pressured, or without fear of retaliation.

If your child is placed in DCS custody, you have the right to:

  • Have written or verbal notification if your child is taken into custody and why.
  • Information on the services available to you and to understand the child dependency case process and timelines.
  • Obtain legal representation.
  • Be notified of the date, time, and location of any hearing in a timely manner.
  • Participate in all hearings.
  • Receive services to work towards family reunification.
  • Maintain contact with your child unless DCS determines it will be harmful to your child.
  • Be consulted about any medical care, education, and grooming for your child.
  • Ask for your child to be returned home if the court decides that returning your child wouldn’t seriously endanger their physical, mental, or emotional well-being.

The Importance of Hiring an Attorney When Facing a Dependency Hearing

Hiring an experienced family law attorney for your juvenile dependency case is essential because a skilled attorney can effectively advocate for your rights and your and your child’s best interests. They also have a deep understanding of juvenile laws and procedures of the child welfare system and can navigate the complexities of the Arizona Family Court. What’s more, your attorney can ensure your case is handled effectively during this highly emotional situation.

You do not need to face DCS and the court alone. The support of an experienced juvenile law attorney can lead to a more positive outcome for your family. If you need legal representation for dependency hearings in Arizona, contact The Valley Law Group for a consultation.

  1. Arizona State Legislature. (n.d.). ARS 8-201. https://www.azleg.gov/ars/8/00201.htm
  2. Maricopa County, Arizona. (n.d.). Dependency Court Process. https://www.maricopa.gov/807/Dependency-Court-Process
  3. Arizona Department of Child Safety. (n.d.). CH5_S03 Terminating Parental Rights. https://extranet.azdcs.gov/DCSPolicy/Content/Program%20Policy/05_Child_Permanency/02%20Adoption/CH5_S03%20Terminating%20Parental%20Rights.htm
  4. Arizona Department of Child Safety. (n.d.). Parents’ Rights. https://dcs.az.gov/parents/parents-rights
  5. Arizona State Legislature. (n.d.). ARS 8-809. https://www.azleg.gov/viewdocument/?docName=https://www.azleg.gov/ars/8/00809.htm
  6. Arizona State Legislature. (n.d.). ARS 8-809.01. https://www.azleg.gov/viewdocument/?docName=https://www.azleg.gov/ars/8/00809-01.htm
  7. Arizona Department of Child Safety. (n.d.). CSO-1977 Section 4. https://dcs.az.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/CSO-1977-Section4.pdf

Post Navigation

Get Free Consultation