The Return Date and Case Management Conference
Let us assume at this point that the Court has ordered your child to remain in the custody of the Division. Your child may remain in foster care, but at this point the Division should be looking to place your child with a relative or family friend if possible. Remember, the Division, not the court, will determine what the placement will be. However at some point during the process you may be notified of a meeting of the Child Placement Review Board, which makes placement recommendations. You may attend this meeting and advocate for the placement that you think is best for your child. It is not necessary for a lawyer to appear at such a meeting.
Your case will typically return to court within two weeks of your hearing. At this point, you will definitely have a Public Defender if you qualified for one. Usually, the Judge will conduct a short hearing on the return date. The Court will probably schedule a date for a Case Management Conference to be held within the next month, and a date for a fact-finding trial to be held at some point after that. Your lawyer will ask for as much parenting time with your child as the court will allow, and may be able to convince the judge that your child can return home soon if certain services are put in place immediately. Typically, the courts will order only one hour a week of supervised parenting time if your child is in foster care. Your lawyer will want you to have additional time. This can be achieved if your child is placed with a relative or friend who can supervise. Even if you do not have a relative caregiver, you may suggest relatives who can be approved to supervise visits.
Your attorney at this point will want to meet with you to discuss the complaint in detail. Although unlike in other cases, the defendant does not usually file an answer to the complaint, your lawyer has the right to do so! Although an answer is not necessary, you should go over each and every paragraph of the complaint against you. Although you will probably disagree with the majority of the allegations in the complaint, here may be some facts contained in the complaint that you can admit are true. When your lawyer has this discussion with you, he or she will understand your side of the case, and will be prepared for the fact-finding trial that will be scheduled. You should let your lawyer know about any potential witnesses, or any other evidence that will be helpful to your defense.
At this point your lawyer will seek discovery to get information about your case. The Division will provide your lawyer with all the evidence and witnesses it will present in the fact-finding trial. Your lawyer can also inspect the entire DCPP file at their office. If you have qualified for the public defender, your lawyer can request payment for whatever type of expert evaluation he or she arranges for you. Your lawyer cannot interview your child but can request an evaluation of your child.
At this point, you may not know exactly what you have to do to regain custody. The court will determine what services are necessary at a dispositional hearing, which generally takes place on the date of the fact-finding trial.