If children are abused or neglected, Child Protective Services (CPS) may file a dependency case with the juvenile court. These cases are not the same as juvenile delinquency cases, where children have committed crimes, but involve parents who are so abusive or neglectful that their children must be removed from them and placed with a relative or foster family to protect them. CPS is a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, an agency that exists in every county of the state, and exists, as well, on the state and federal levels. But it is the county level departments that deal in the day-to-day, nitty-gritty required to protect children from abusive parents.
Attorney CHRISTOPHER LOIZEAUX has been representing parents defending against CPS intervention since 1997. He is presently hired by the County of Napa to be a public defender in this area. He also privately represents parents and sometimes grandparents in different Northern California counties.
Dependency law is a specialized area of law, requiring that attorneys be trained and certified to practice in dependency court. Because removing children from parents involves the state interfering with parents’ constitutional rights to raise their children as they see fit, parents have the right to appointed attorneys, if they cannot afford to hire their own, just like in criminal cases, where the penalties potentially interfere with defendants’ constitutional rights to live freely. However, unlike criminal court, the dependency court must also balance a parent’s right to raise his or her child with the child’s right to live free from abuse or neglect. So, in every dependency case, the children are also appointed an attorney (or more than one, if there is a conflict between children of the same parents). Each indigent (poor) parent is appointed his or her own attorney because of the potential conflict between parents. A privately retained attorney, however, may choose to represent both parents, if they hold the same position and sign a form waiving any potential conflict of interest.