However, it is the State Department of Human Services (DHS) who is primarily responsibile for the investigation and case planning of cases involving risk of abuse and/or neglect. The State of Oregon has adopted the following statutory language as a basic for intervention when there is concern that a child is at risk:
ORS 419B.090(2)(a) is the policy of the State of Oregon to recognize that children are individuals who have legal rights. Among those rights is the right to:
- Permanency with a safe family;
- Freedom from physical, sexual or emotional abuse or exploitation; and
- Freedom from substantial neglect of basic needs.
(Definitions of abuse and neglect - ORS 419B.005)
The manner in which a child is referred to DHS usually comes from community members or from one of the following mandatory reporters:
- Certified providers of child care or foster care or their employees
- Clergymen or clergywomen
- Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)
- Firefighters or emergency medical technicians
- Licensed clinical social workers
- Licensed practical nurses or registered nurses
- Licensed professional counselors
- Naturopathic physicians
- Peace officers
- School employees
- Various state and county agencies
Per Oregon Revised Statutes, all Juvenile Department staff are mandatory reporters and are required by law to make a report to DHS of any incident of child abuse and/or neglect that comes to their attention.
Dependency Court Process
Once a child has been referred to DHS, an investigation by DHS personnel will be conducted to determine if the child and the family are in need of services. If the child appears to be in an environment posing a danger to him/her, DHS may request a petition be filed and the child be placed in the temporary custody of the state to ensure the child is safe and services are provided for the family.
When a child is placed in "protective custody" by a law enforcement agency, a preliminary hearing will be held within 24-hours of the placement or the first court working day. Children are placed in protective custody when an officer or deputy determines that a child's physical, mental or emotional well-being is in jeopardy if they remain in a given environment.
Prior to a preliminary hearing, a petition will be filed by a Deputy District Attorney that specifically states the issues that brought the child to the attention of the court, (ORS 419B.230).
At the preliminary hearing the court will decide to accept or dismiss the petition, make a determination of where the child will be placed while DHS conducts an investigation, and appoint attorneys for the child and parents when necessary. The court will also inform the parents of their rights as well as the possibility they may be held financially responsible for the cost of the child's placement in foster care or the cost of their court appointed attorney.
A second hearing, referred to as a Judicial Review of the Pending Petition, will be held within the next 30 days. At that hearing the parents of the child will be asked to either agree the child needs to remain in the custody of the state for continued services or deny the allegations in the petition and request a trial. The state will then be required to prove the allegations contained in the petition.
If the parents agree or "stipulate' to the petition or to a petition with alternate language, the child will be made a ward of the court and placed in the legal custody of DHS. DHS will then attempt to engage the parents and, if necessary, the child in services designed to alleviate the problems that created the need for intervention. The goal of the court and the agencies involved in dependency matters is reunification of the family as soon as possible, if possible. If, over the course of a twelve month period from the time a child is placed in foster care, the court finds the parents have not made progress toward unification, the State will move toward termination of the rights of the parents unless the court finds "compelling reasons" not to do so and makes a permanent plan, other than adoption, for a child.
Who is Involved?
Throughout the court process there are certain individuals referred to as "parties", or those who are considered to have legal standing in the eyes of the court. Those people include: the child, the legal parents or guardian of the child, the attorneys representing the family members, the State, the Juvenile Department, a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), and DHS or other child-caring agency. A person having a significant relationship with the child may file a motion with the court requesting they be identified as an intervener under ORS 109.119.
Residents of Clackamas County may call the Clackamas County branch of DHS if they have questions regarding child abuse/neglect or if they want to report child abuse. The local phone number the State Department of Human Services is (971) 673-7112. Residents interested in being a foster parent for children in the care of the state may also call this number for information.
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