A state commission concluded its two-year study of California's juvenile dependency courts Friday by calling for sweeping reforms to make sure children and parents caught in the system are better informed and better served. ...These recommendations did not come in time for my case. My case was heard by a Commissioner Irwin H. Joseph, not a real judge. He removed my kids from our home at the first complaint, without even holding a hearing. He blocked the kids from participating. As far as I know, his training was just that of a real-estate lawyer and he didn't seem to have the foggiest idea about juvenile dependency law. He was unfamiliar with the statutory definitions of abuse and the legal standards for proving that abuse. The court-appointed lawyer, James M. Ritchey did not seem to know anything about it either.
The recommendations address several of the critical problems highlighted by the series "Broken Families, Broken Courts," a Mercury News investigation published last month that exposed widespread problems in the courts that oversee 75,000 California children in foster care. ...
The recommendations in the commission's 20-page report aim at reducing the number of children in foster care, a system believed to poorly serve the children it is designed to protect. Key recommendations include:
• Removing children from their homes should be a last resort, and children temporarily separated from parents should be returned home by the courts as quickly as possible. If the state does take custody, children in long-term foster care should receive financial and other support through age 21, rather than ending foster care at age 18 as is the current practice.
• Local trial courts should prioritize the often-shunned dependency courts. All dependency cases should be heard by judges, not the court-appointed referees and commissioners who now hear most cases.
• All court clients - including children - should have an opportunity to participate in their hearings; with the exception of cases in Los Angeles County, children are routinely absent. Clients should get help with rides to court, and hearings should be set at specific times, so that school and work conflicts for parents can be accommodated. ...
Juvenile dependency law should be a mandatory area of study for the California bar exam ...
Saturday, March 15, 2008
California panel recommends fixes
The San Jose paper reports: