Child Abuse and Neglect


This page describes the process by which the state may intervene in the parent child relationship for the purpose of protecting the child. This does not include information on potential criminal consequences for acts of child abuse or neglect.

A local department of social services may remove a child from his or her home if necessary to protect the child from abuse or neglect. If a child is removed from the home, the department of social services will file a petition alleging that: the child has been abused, neglected, has a developmental disability or a mental disorder; AND the child’s parents are unable or unwilling to provide proper care for the child.

These cases are called Child in Need of Assistance or CINA cases. 

What happens in a CINA Case?

  1. Shelter Care Hearing. 

    After the child is removed from his or her home, the court will hold a Shelter Care Hearing on the next day on which court is in session. At that hearing a judge or master will decide whether the temporary out of home placement of the child in “shelter care” should continue. The court can order shelter care for up to 30 days. This can be extended an additional 30 days in certain circumstances.

  2. Adjudicatory Hearing.  The court will hold an Adjudicatory Hearing within 30 days of the Shelter Care hearing, if the child is removed from the home. At the Adjudicatory Hearing, the court will decide whether the facts alleged in the petition are true. At the end of the hearing, the court can grant an order continuing shelter care, if appropriate, and schedule a Disposition Hearing, or proceed straight to the Disposition Hearing that day.
  3. Disposition Hearing.  At the Disposition Hearing, the court will decide if the child is a “Child in Need of Assistance” (CINA). If the court finds the child is not a CINA, the court may dismiss the case. If the court finds the child is a CINA, the court may:
    • Return the child to the care of his or her parents;
    • Return the child home but require the department of social services to supervise the home;
    • Order the parents or child to participate in certain services;
    • Order additional assessments to determine what is best for the child;
    • Place the child in foster care or a treatment facility;
    • Place the child in the care of a relative;
    • Determine custody, visitation, support or paternity of a child.
  4. Permanency Planning Hearing.  When a child has been removed from his or her home and committed to the care of the department of social services, the court must hold regular review hearings to ensure the child is cared for properly, and to determine what the best long term plan is for the child. These are called Permanency Planning Hearings. The court must hold a Permanency Planning Hearing:
    • Within 6 months of when the child was committed to the department (usually within 6 months of the Disposition Hearing).
    • And at least every 6 months after that while the child is in the care of the department.

Right to a Lawyer

A child has a right to be represented by a lawyer at all CINA proceedings. The court will appoint a lawyer to represent the child. A parent has a right to be represented at every stage of a CINA case. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer and your income is below a certain level, a lawyer will be appointed to represent you from the Office of the Public Defender. You can get a free lawyer, regardless of income, if you, as the parent, are under age 18, or in some cases, if you have a mental disability.