LEGAL PRACTICE IN THE JUVENILE COURT
Legal practice in the Juvenile Court is restricted by law to attorneys who are licensed by the Supreme Court of Ohio. If an individual wishes to handle his or her own case, he or she may do so; however, they may not represent others. Due to the complexity of the law and the desire to avoid costly errors, most individuals who have filings before the Court are represented by an attorney. Deputy clerks are prevented by law from practicing law and, therefore, are not permitted to give advice.
When the Sandusky County Department of Job and Family Services – Children Services Division files a complaint alleging children are either abused, neglected or dependent, the action is held at Sandusky County Juvenile Court. Children Services will file a complaint when they believe abuse, neglect or dependency is present. It is very important to take Children Services actions seriously. If you feel a child’s safety and welfare are in imminent danger, contact the Sandusky County Job and Family Services - Children Services Division at (419) 334-8708, and they will take the referral and follow their internal procedures for processing the referral.
Children Services may file an Emergency Action with Sandusky County Juvenile Court when the child’s safety and welfare are compromised. They will contact the Court requesting an Ex-Parte Order in a Shelter Care hearing. They must show that it isn’t in the child’s best interest to remain in the home. A Shelter Care hearing is held and the Court makes a decision whether there are reasonable grounds to remove the child. At the Shelter Care hearing, Children Services has great latitude in presenting evidence. If the Court grants Children Services request for Shelter Care, Children Services must file a formal Complaint with the Court within 72 hours.
The other way Children Services can initiate an action is by filing a formal Complaint with Sandusky County Juvenile Court. If this happens, the case is set for hearing.
Adjudication is the formal finding by the Court that the allegation of abuse, neglect or dependency has or hasn’t occurred (similar to a conviction in an adult court). At adjudication, Children Services must prove that the child is abused, neglected or dependent as defined under Ohio law. The parents can present evidence as well and normal courtroom rules of evidence apply. If Children Services established abuse, neglect or dependency the case will move on to the Disposition stage of the case. If Children Services doesn’t meet their burden, the case will be dismissed.
Disposition is the final decision as to the sanction (similar to sentencing in adult court). If disposition is necessary, the Court has five dispositional alternatives they can consider. They are:
Disposition Orders are revisited every six months. Children Services must find a permanent placement for the child within two years from when the case started.
Sandusky County Juvenile Court has developed local forms to assist in CHILDREN SERVICES filings as follows:
Caregiver Information Form
Change of Address
Financial Disclosure Form
Motion for Continuance
WHAT IS AN ABUSE/NEGLECT/DEPENDENCY CASE?
Abuse/Neglect/Dependency cases are those cases that are filed by the Sandusky County Department of Job and Family Services – Children Services Division alleging a child is abused, neglected or dependent. Definitions for abuse, neglect and dependency can be found in the Ohio Revised Code Sections 2151.03, 2151.031 and 2151.04.
HOW LONG CAN CHILDREN SERVICES KEEP MY CHILDREN?
Before your child has been taken into custody, the agency can apply to the Juvenile Court for an “Ex-Parte Emergency Order” asking the Court to review its request to keep your child in custody. The Court hears this request without you being present, and will determine if Children Services has “probable cause” to take your child, and whether they made reasonable efforts to notify you beforehand, providing you with the reasons for the removal (unless the agency felt that providing explanations might endanger your child). If the Court grants the agency’s request for the Ex-Parte Emergency Order, Children Services may keep your child temporarily until they file a formal Complaint with the Court explaining why your child was removed. The Court must hear the formal Complaint within 72 hours of the time Children Services first took your child into custody.
WHEN DO I GO TO COURT TO GIVE MY SIDE OF THE STORY?
You must be notified and given a copy of the Complaint that explains why the child was taken and what Children Services wants to do (such as to get temporary or permanent custody of your child). The parents will receive a “summons,” telling you when and where the hearing will be held, what the hearing is about, and that you have a right to a lawyer at the hearing.
WHAT HAPPENS AT THAT HEARING?
The Court will make sure that the Complaint has been properly filed in the right Court, determine whether Children Services has given the parents reasonable oral or written notice of the time, place, and purpose of the hearing, as well as instructions about preparing a case plan (including the general requirements of that case plan, and what happens if you do not comply with the case plan). The Court will also advise you and all involved parties of their right to Counsel. The Court will also appoint a Guardian ad Litem to protect your child’s best interests.
At the hearing, you may tell the Court your side of the story, and what you believe to be in your child’s best interest. The Court will determine if probable cause exists for a trial or if the complaint should be dismissed. The Court will also decide where your child will remain and what must be done before the next hearing date.
HOW CAN I GET A COURT APPOINTED ATTORNEY?
For a Children Services case you can request a Court Appointed Attorney by filing a Financial Disclosure Form with the Sandusky County Juvenile Court in person, by mail (100 N. Park Ave, Fremont, OH 43420), or by fax (419-334-6210). The Judge or Magistrate reviews each application and makes a determination of eligibility based on State of Ohio guidelines. If a party qualifies for a Court Appointed Attorney, they will be notified by mail of the Attorney’s name and contact information.
HOW DO I CHANGE MY ADDRESS?
It is very important to notify the Court every time you move. In order to change your address, file the Change of Address form with the Court.
WHO CAN RECEIVE INFORMATION REGARDING AN ABUSE/NEGLECT/DEPENDENCY CASE?
Only the parties to the case can receive information; specifically, the mother, father and any other caretaker/custodian that is a party to the case.
HOW DO I CONTACT MY CHILDREN SERVICES CASEWORKER?
Sandusky County DJFS can be reached by telephone at 419-334-8708. Their office is located at 2511 Countryside Drive, Fremont, OH 43420.
WHAT IS CASA?
CASA is an acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocate. A CASA is a volunteer with special training that is appointed by the Court to advocate for children. For more information regarding CASA, please visit their website at www.casaofssw.org.
WHAT IS A GUARDIAN AD LITEM?
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is an attorney appointed by the Court to represent a child’s interests in Court. GAL attorneys are required by state law to undergo special training each year.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I AM CONCERNED THAT A CHILD IS BEING ABUSED OR NEGLECTED?
You should contact Sandusky County Children Services at 419-334-8708. They can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY CONCERNS WARRANT CALLING CHILDREN SERVICES?
This is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Very simply, if you feel that a child's safety and welfare are in imminent danger, you should call. Even if the agency determines that there is no need to investigate, information can be provided to the family that may address your concerns.