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Legal System

While you are in DCFS care, there are meetings, called court hearings, where you, your caseworker, your parents and others involved meet with the judge. Each court hearing has a special name and purpose.

In the courtroom, the judge is the person in charge and listens to everyone who comes to your court hearing. The caseworker tells the judge whether your parents have made changes so that you can return home. The judge makes the decision whether it is safe for you go home or whether you must stay in DCFS care to be safe.

The Shelter Care Hearing

This hearing is a meeting where the judge listens to people who know about the issues in your family and want you to be safe. These people, such as the DCFS investigator, will tell the judge why you were removed from your home and will ask the judge to decide if you should stay in DCFS care or return home. The judge may ask questions. It is important to remember that you can talk to the judge if you want to.

At the Shelter Care Hearing, the judge may ask a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or a lawyer (attorney) called a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to help you. The GAL or CASA will know about the law and why you are in court; and will look out for your interests.

The Adjudicatory Hearing (sometimes called a trial)

At this hearing, the judge listens to what people say and decides if you were abused, neglected or dependent. Your family will be at this hearing and so will your caseworker. Your Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or CASA will be here and will explain anything you don’t understand.

The Dispositional Hearing

The judge decides if it is safe for you to return home, stay in DCFS care or live with another caregiver while your parents work on the issues that brought you into care. The judge may say that your parents need to go to counseling, parenting training or need other things to help them take good care of you and keep you safe. The judge and your caseworker want to help your family get back together.

Administrative Case Review (ACR)

The Administrative Case Review is also called the ACR. It is a process that DCFS uses to check that everything is going well with your case and appropriate services are available for you and your parents. The reviewer will discuss the progress you and your parents are making. The ACR is held every six months and depending on your age, you will be invited to attend the ACR. We encourage you to be present at all these meetings. This allows you to keep up to date on what is occurring in your case and allows you to express your opinions and be heard.

Permanency Hearings

Permanency hearings are meetings with the judge or a hearing officer to see how things are going and whether your parents are making changes to make your home safe. These meetings will occur as long as you are in DCFS care. Your parents will have to show the judge or hearing officer that they have cooperated with the caseworker, completed all the steps listed in the Service Plan and made changes to make your home safe. The judge must make sure that it is safe for you to return home, and may want to hear directly from you about your situation. If your home is still not safe, the judge will also make the decision about a plan for your living situation. The Service Plan will also include things that are important for you to do, like attend school, participate in counseling, follow the rules where you are living and participate in other activities.