A number of courts use mediation or other non-adversarial dispute resolutions to settle issues in child maltreatment cases. If, however, non-adversarial dispute resolution is not used or is not successful in settling the case by agreement, the case will go to adjudication after the initial hearing. At the adjudication hearing, which is also known as the fact-finding hearing or jurisdictional hearing, the court decides whether the child protective services (CPS) agency can prove the allegations. The CPS attorney presents evidence through the testimony of the CPS caseworker and law enforcement or other witnesses. These other witnesses, if needed, may include expert professional witnesses. Documents such as photographs and medical records may be entered into evidence, and the attorneys for the parents and the child have the right to cross examine any witnesses and to call witnesses and present evidence on their own behalf. The CPS agency needs to present enough evidence to convince the court that the maltreatment alleged in the petition occurred.
If the judge determines that the CPS agency has provided sufficient evidence, he or she will issue a judicial determination that justifies continuing involvement of the CPS agency and the court. If, however, the judge determines that the CPS agency has not provided sufficient evidence, the case may be dismissed and the CPS agency will have no authority to continue its involvement with the family without the family’s voluntary participation.
When the court has determined that child maltreatment has occurred, the judge enters an order finding specific facts regarding the maltreatment and the problems that must be resolved before the child can safely return home. The court will also make determinations as to whether the CPS agency has made reasonable efforts to avoid placement or to achieve reunification, and whether the child’s placement is appropriate given the needs of the child and proximity to the family. The court will also schedule the disposition hearing date and may schedule a permanency hearing to ensure that required timeframes are met.