Child Abuse and Neglect
The Michigan Department of Human Services (formerly the Family Independence Agency) is the agency charged with the responsibility for investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect. The Juvenile Division of the Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is the legal consultant to the DHS. This means that an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney will represent the DHS at all stages of a child protective proceeding.
A child abuse/neglect proceeding begins with the filing of a petition with the Circuit Court Family Division in the County where the abused or neglected child “is found”. A petition is a complaint or other written allegation that a parent, guardian, non-parent adult, or legal custodian has harmed or failed to properly care for a child. The purposes of a petition are to frame the issues for the court and to provide notice of the allegations to a respondent (usually a parent). Typically, a DHS Children’s Protective Services worker prepares and files a petition with the court. However, prosecutors, school officials, the Children’s Ombudsman of Michigan, guardians, custodians, and foster parents may file petitions.
If a petition is filed and requests placement of the child outside the parental/custodial home, the court must hold a preliminary hearing to decide whether to authorize the filing of the petition and continue the child’s placement outside of the home. The preliminary hearing must commence no later than 24 hours after the child has been taken into protective custody. In cases in which the child has been severely physically injured or sexually abused, the preliminary hearing must commence no later than 24 hours after the DHS submits a petition.
If the court authorizes the petition at the preliminary hearing, the matter will be scheduled for a pretrial before a judge or referee. At that pretrial the respondent will have the opportunity to admit to the allegations, or a portion of the allegations in the petition, or deny the validity of the allegations contained in the petition. If a respondent admits to the allegations contained in the petition, the child will be made a temporary court ward. If the respondent or respondents deny the allegations contained in the petition the matter will be scheduled for a bench trial before a judge or referee, or a jury trial before a judge.
If a respondent admits to the petition, or if a referee, judge or jury found after trial that the petitioner proved at least one of the allegations by a preponderance of the evidence, the child is made a temporary court ward. The matter must then proceed to an initial dispositional hearing. The purpose of the hearing is to determine what measures the court will take with respect to a child properly within its jurisdiction and, when applicable against any adult. Generally the court orders regarding a plan for reunification is based upon the recommendations of a DHS Foster Care Specialist. Prior to the dispositional hearing the Foster Care Specialist will have met with the respondents, conducted a family history, and drafted a parent agency agreement which lists all the services the DHS believes will assist the family in reunification.
Following the initial disposition the court will schedule periodic dispositional review hearings. The purpose of these review hearings is to monitor a respondent’s progress in complying with and completing the court ordered remedial measures. The respondent, respondent’s attorney, the Foster Care Specialist, an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Foster Parents, and any professional involved in the treatment plan may participate in a review hearing. Dispositional review hearings must be conducted every 90 days. The court may order additional reviews sooner than every 90 days if the court deems it necessary.
Permanency planning hearings are conducted to review the progress being made toward returning home a child in foster care, or to show why the child should not be made a permanent court ward. A court must hold a permanency planning hearing no later than one year after an original petition was filed. The permanency planning hearing is conducted in the same manner as the review hearing described above. However, at the conclusion of the permanency planning hearing the court must order the child returned home unless it determines that the return would cause a substantial risk of harm to the life, physical health, or the mental well-being of the child. If returned home, the child may be dismissed as a court ward, or may continue as a court ward to monitor the adjustment to the home environment. If the court determines at a permanency planning hearing that the child should not be returned home, it must order the DHS to initiate proceedings to terminate parental rights.
Upon the filing of a supplemental petition, the court will schedule a termination trial. If the child is already a court ward the respondent has no right to a jury trial. In certain cases of severe physical abuse, or sexual abuse the DHS may request termination of parental rights in an initial petition. Once a court finds by clear and convincing evidence after trial that a legal basis for termination exists, the court must terminate parental rights unless termination is clearly not in the best interest of the child. Parental rights to a child include the rights to custody, control, services, earnings, and inheritance. If all parental rights to a child are terminated, the child will be placed in the permanent custody of the court for purposes of placement and where appropriate, adoption. Termination of parental rights does not extinguish an obligation to pay child support.