When there are ongoing safety concerns that cannot be managed, and the risk of future child maltreatment is present, the child protective services (CPS) agency will file a petition with the courts to take custody of the child. This usually entails the child being removed from the home. The decision to file a petition seeking custody is a complex and difficult one that requires assessing the safety of the child and weighing it against the trauma of the child being separated from his or her parents or caregivers. Therefore, petitions are usually filed when children have been exposed to or will be exposed to serious threats to their safety.
Cases begin with a petition, or initial pleading, before a court. Following that, there is an initial hearing, which is where the court determines whether the child should be placed into foster care or remain in the home. If the child is to be placed in foster care or receive additional services from the agency, then an adjudication hearing will be scheduled to hear evidence supporting the petition. At the disposition hearing, which may occur simultaneously with the adjudication hearing or shortly afterwards, the court determines which specific services the child and family should receive. Review hearings to review progress in the case take place, at a minimum, every 6 months. Permanency hearings must begin within 12 months of adjudication, and after that are held every 12 months to determine progress toward achieving permanency for the child and family.