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Giving a Nine-Month Old Girl and her Grandmother a Voice in the Court System

A grandmother called Advokids’ hotline today asking for help advocating for her infant granddaughter who is in her care. The grandmother obtained a temporary guardianship in probate court when the case was referred to the county child welfare department because of issues of possible parental neglect—including domestic violence, drugs, and anger issues. From this point forward, the grandmother was frustrated in her attempts to share information about her granddaughter with the court and the baby’s attorney and to advocate on the baby’s behalf. She called Advokids and learned for the first time about the JV-285 court form which relatives can use at any time to share information with the court about a child in foster care. The grandmother was thrilled to know about this form and to finally have the opportunity to share her granddaughter’s history and her concerns with the court. When she went to her county clerk’s office to file the form, she was told that she could not file the form because she was “not a party to the case” and did not have the proper juvenile case number on the form. The clerk did not assist her or understand that the form was designed specially for relatives to encourage them to bring information to the court and they are not required to have “legal party status” to file the JV-285.

Advokids’ staff attorney called the county juvenile filing clerk and explained the intent of the form and the clerk’s duty to file to prevent such filing problems in the future. The clerk was agreeable but explained that she still needed the proper juvenile court case number.

The Advokids attorney then suggested that the grandmother call her county social worker or the social worker’s supervisor immediately and request the case number. When she called, the county staff told her that the case number was “confidential” and they could not share it with her. We are talking about a grandmother that the county has entrusted to care for her 9 month old granddaughter who the county deemed to be “at risk” in the home of her parents.

Advokids sent the grandmother a copy of California Rule of Court 5.534 to provide to county staff. Rule 5.534 requires the county agency to send all identified relatives a copy of the JV-285 with the county and address of the court, the child’s name and date of birth, and the case number already entered in the appropriate caption boxes. Also, Welfare and Institutions Code 16010.4 requires the child welfare agency to provide all caregivers with the court case number. The grandmother was entitled to the child’s court case number as a matter of right as a relative and a caregiver.

The grandmother successfully filed her JV-285 with her county juvenile court clerk’s office the following day, the same day that the case was to be heard in court at 1:30 in the afternoon. She attended the hearing to make sure the court received her information as allowed under Rule 5.534. She waited outside of the courtroom until 4:15 pm when the case was called. Inside the courtroom, the judge acknowledged his receipt of her JV-285 and continued the case to the following week for a contested hearing. The baby’s attorney was advised that the grandmother was present and wished to speak to her. When the grandmother approached the baby’s attorney at the end of the hearing, the baby’s attorney did not acknowledge her or speak with her. Again, this is the caregiver of the child who is the subject of these court proceedings. She loves and cares for this child and fears for her future but she is not seen as a potential source of information about the child or a valued member of the “child’s team.”

Federal and State law require us to invite our children’s relatives and caregivers into the process. It sounds great on paper but grandmother’s experience is not at all unusual. Courts and county agencies marginalize our children’s caregivers, who are the very people who have demonstrated the greatest commitment to them. We have some of the most stringent laws in the nation, but little will to enforce them. Let’s all get started.

“Foster parents are one of the most important sources of information about the children in their care. Courts, lawyers, and social workers should have the benefit of caregivers’ perceptions. Both federal and state law recognize the importance of foster parents’ participation in juvenile court proceedings. Federal law requires that foster parents and other caregivers receive expanded opportunities for notice, the right to participate in dependency court review and permanency hearings, and the right to communicate concerns to the courts.”
Welfare and Institutions Code Section 16010.4.(b)

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