The Family Division, Dependency and Related Services Department is responsible for hearing cases in which a child is alleged to be neglected or abused. These cases are known as “dependency” cases.
There are three parties in dependency cases; Allegheny County Children Youth and Families, the child(ren), and the parents, all of whom have the right to legal representation at each stage of the proceedings. Attorneys who are members of an organization known as KidsVoice are appointed to represent children in dependency proceedings. In some situations, KidsVoice attorneys are not able to represent a child due to a conflict of interest. In those instances, the court will appoint another attorney.
Parents’ rights are potentially affected by a dependency proceeding. Therefore, a parent has a right to an attorney. If a person qualifies financially, he/she may be entitled to free representation. To apply for free representation, a person can contact the:
Juvenile Court Project
436 Seventh Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Intake hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
- A shelter care hearing is the first stage of a dependency case. The purpose of the hearing is to determine if the child must remain in protective custody or can be immediately and safely returned home.
- Shelter care hearings must occur within 72 hours of the child being taken into protective custody. If the court finds the child should remain in protective custody, a dependency petition must be filed.
- Pending an adjudicatory hearing, the court may place the child in the home of a relative, a licensed foster home, or a facility operated by a licensed child welfare agency. If the court finds protective custody of the child is not necessary, the child may return home pending a hearing on the merits of the case.
- Juvenile courts are given authority to hear and make dispositions in cases in which children are alleged to be dependent. A dependent child is one who:
- lacks proper parental care and control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care or control necessary for his/her physical, mental, or emotional health, or morals;
- has been placed for care or adoption illegally;
- has been abandoned or otherwise lacks a parent, guardian, or legal custodian;
- is habitually truant without justification while subject to compulsory school attendance;
- has committed a delinquent act and is under ten years of age;
- has habitually disobeyed reasonable parental commands and is ungovernable and in need of care, treatment, or supervision;
- was adjudicated dependent previously, remains under the court’s jurisdiction, and has committed acts qualifying him as ungovernable;
- has been referred pursuant to an informal adjustment and has committed acts qualifying him as ungovernable; or
- was born to a parent whose current conduct poses a risk to the child’s health, safety, or welfare and whose parental rights with regard to another child were involuntarily terminated within the three years preceding this child’s birth.
- When a dependency petition is filed, the court schedules a hearing to determine whether the child is legally dependent under one or several of the above definitions.
- If the child is adjudicated dependent, the court will issue a dispositional order, which provides for the placement of the child and sets a review hearing. The parent(s) are provided with a Family Plan by Children Youth and Families (CYF). The Family Plan is developed with the family and provides a detailed set of requirements the family must successfully complete in order to be reunified with the child or to end CYF in-home supervision. For more information, visit alleghenycounty.us/dhs/cyf.aspx.
- The court reviews dependency cases every three months to monitor the progress the family is making on the Family Plan.
- If the family successfully completes the requirements of the Family Plan, the dependency case will be closed. If the family does not complete the requirements of the Family Plan, and they have not otherwise removed the barriers to the child returning home, the case will proceed to permanency for the child.
- Permanency can occur for a child in the following ways: (1) permanent legal custodianship, (2) an independent living program, if the child is old enough and is willing, (3) placement with a fit and willing relative, and (4) termination of parental rights/adoption.
- Please visit the following website which provides a comprehensive discussion of court dependency practices in Pennsylvania: http://www.ocfcpacourts.us.
TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS (TPR)
- If a family fails to meet the goals of the Family Plan and cannot be reunified or the child cannot be placed with a relative, in a permanent legal custodianship, or in an independent living program, the dependency case moves to termination of parental rights.
- The court will schedule the matter for hearing. If one or both parents appear to contest the case, the court will schedule an evidentiary hearing. If the parents do not appear at the hearing, the court will enter a termination of parental rights order.
- The court hears evidence from all parties and renders its decision. If a party appeals the decision of the court, the court will prepare findings of fact and conclusions of law for review by the Superior Court.
- If the termination of parental rights order is affirmed by the Superior Court, the case can proceed to an adoption hearing.
- If a termination of parental rights case is uncontested, or if it is contested and affirmed on appeal, the case can proceed to an adoption.
- Children, Youth and Families will file an adoption petition, and the matter will be scheduled for an adoption hearing.
- The Family Division hears adoption cases that arise from dependency cases. Private adoptions are heard in the Orphans’ Court Division.