KidsVoice represents youth ages 0-21 with open dependency cases in Allegheny County's Juvenile Court. But what exactly does that mean?

We created "Taking the Mystery Out of Dependency Hearings," a special series released on social media during Foster Care Awareness Month in 2022, to break down the types of hearings involved in a child's dependency case and who may be present at these hearings.

Shelter Care Hearings

When a child has been removed from their home by CYF due to allegations of abuse and/or neglect, state law requires that, within 72 hours, a Shelter Care Hearing be held to determine whether it is necessary for the child to remain outside of their home. This hearing may also be referred to as an Emergency Shelter Hearing.

Adjudication Hearings

Within 10 or 45 days, depending on the Shelter Care Hearing’s outcome, an Adjudication Hearing is scheduled. This hearing determines whether the child will become adjudicated dependent, meaning the court will oversee key aspects of the child's life.

Disposition Hearings

If a child becomes adjudicated dependent, a disposition hearing will usually be held immediately after the adjudication hearing. During this hearing, the judge determines longer-term living arrangements, services, and goals.

Permanency Review Hearings

For a child in foster care, Permanency Review Hearings are required by law every six months but are typically every three months in Allegheny County. Case reviews ensure the child's best interests are being met and the family is working towards its goals.

Closing the Case

Permanency review hearings continue until a dependent child’s case is closed, which typically happens in one of four ways: reunification, adoption, permanent legal custody is granted to the foster parents, or the child ages out. 

Youth age out of the foster care system no earlier than their 18th birthday. In Allegheny County, they may choose to keep their case open until age 21. KidsVoice continues to work with aged-out youth through age twenty-four.
 

Judges and Hearing Officers

Now that we have covered the types of hearings involved in a child’s dependency case, let’s look at the people in the courtroom. Each hearing is heard by a judge, who is an elected official, or a hearing officer, who is an appointed county employee. 

In Allegheny County, there are three hearing officers. They hear shelter care hearings and permanency review hearings. The county has nine primary juvenile court judges–plus seven family court judges who also hear some dependency cases.
 

The Parties of the Case

Three parties are involved in each dependency hearing: the child, the parent(s) or legal guardians, and the county.

The child in the case is represented by a legal advocate. KidsVoice lawyers are appointed in nearly all dependency cases and represent the child from the child’s initial shelter care hearing through case closure. 

The Allegheny County Child Youth and Families caseworker is represented by an Assistant County Solicitor.

Parents and legal guardians also have the right to be represented by an attorney. A parent can be appointed an attorney at no cost to them if the parent qualifies financially.

Witnesses

Our last entry in “Taking the Mystery Out of Dependency Hearings" is about witnesses. Just like in any other hearing, witnesses may be called on to provide testimony at dependency hearings. Common witnesses include medical professionals, relatives, and service providers.

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