What is the Department of Social Services, and what do you need to know?
If you have found this article, it is likely that you are facing one of the most difficult times in a parent's life. Many states have proceedings that are known as "removal proceedings". This is a complicated, multi-step process that begins whenever the Government has concerns about the health and safety of your children. The purpose of this article is to dispel some of the unknown factors that go into these proceedings.
In the state of Virginia, these proceedings are initiated by the Department of Social Services. They can start a number of different ways, but typically are in the context of an Emergency Removal. Facts have come to the attention of DSS which leads them to believe that the children are no longer safe in your home.
One of the first steps can be the initial removal of the children upon an "affidavit" filed with the Court. this document outlines to the Court why the Department thinks the children should be removed. Within a short period of time after this removal, you are entitled to an initial hearing to determine if the removal was appropriate. At that hearing, you can choose to participate with DSS or fight the removal.
A few things can happen at that first hearing. The Court can decide to take up both the reasons for the removal and whether or not the children have been "abused or neglected". Alternatively, the Court may split these two issues up into two different hearings.
If it is split up, you will have another hearing called an "adjudicatory hearing" within 30 days unless all agree to push it out further. At this hearing, the Court will take evidence about whether the children were abused or neglected. After this hearing, you will get a "dispositional hearing". At that hearing, the Court will decide whether the children will be returned or will continue with their placement elsewhere.
If you are facing a removal proceeding, you need immediate counsel. Courts will typically appoint counsel for those who cannot afford counsel. However, if you can afford counsel, it is imperative that you begin looking for an attorney immediately upon receiving notice of the removal.