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What are the different CINC court hearings and when do they happen?
Before the First Hearing
When someone contacts DCFS to report abuse or neglect of a child, a screening and investigation process is initiated and DCFS assesses for risk and safety. DCFS can request an Instanter Order of Removal from the court ordering that the child be removed from his/her home until a Continued Custody Hearing is held and placed in the provisional (i.e., short-term) custody of a suitable relative or suitable individual capable of protecting the child or DCFS (i.e., foster care). If DCFS is granted custody of the child, DCFS will place the child in the care of a relative, fictive kin, certified foster parent, or suitable licensed facility.
Continued Custody Hearing
If a child is removed from their parents’ custody by a judge, a Continued Custody Hearing must be held within 3 days of the child’s removal. (A continuance of up to an additional 3 days may be allowed by the court if it is in the best interest of the child and good cause is shown by the person requesting it.). At this hearing, the court will determine whether the child should be returned home or that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child is a “child in need of care” and that the child’s continued provisional custody with a suitable relative, suitable individual, or DCFS is necessary to safeguard and protect the child. The court may also address other matters at this hearing, such as visitation, services and supports needed, the child’s education, the care and well-being of the child, etc.
Petition and Answer Hearing
To protect the parents’ due process rights and right to the care and custody of their child, for a child to remain in an out-of-home placement, the court must “adjudicate" the “child in need of care.” This process starts with the State of Louisiana timely filing a Petition with the court setting out the grounds for claiming the “child is in need of care.” The Petition must be filed within 30 days of the Continued Custody Hearing. If it is not, the child must be returned home. An Answer Hearing must be held before the Adjudication Hearing but no later than 15 days after the Petition is filed. The purpose of the Answer Hearing is to give each parent the opportunity to “answer” the Petition. The child may object to the parents’ “answer.” If the parents admit to the allegations of the Petition but do not agree that the child is in need of care or deny the allegations of the Petition, the court will schedule an Adjudication Hearing. The parents may also stipulate that the “child is in need of care,” with or without admitting the allegations of the Petition. If the requirements for a stipulation or admission have been met and the court adjudicates the “child in need of care” at the Answer Hearing, the court will not schedule or hold an Adjudication Hearing. The court can hold a Disposition Hearing that day or schedule the Disposition Hearing for another date.
The Adjudication Hearing must take place within 45 days of the filing of the Petition. (A continuance of up to an additional 5 days may be allowed by the court in extraordinary circumstances.). The purpose of the Adjudication Hearing is for the court to make a legal determination as to whether or not the allegations of abuse and/or neglect in the Petition have been proven. The State has the burden of proving that the “child is in need of care” by a preponderance of the evidence. This hearing is held more like a trial, and the State, child, and parents can present evidence and call and cross-examine witnesses. If the judge finds that the State has not met its burden, the judge will order that the case be dismissed (and the child would likely return home). If the judge finds that the State has met its burden, the judge will order that the child be adjudicated as a “child in need of care.” Such an adjudication of the child by the judge is required for the court to continue to have jurisdiction over the CINC case. If the adjudication does not timely occur, the child may be returned home. As explained above, the parents may stipulate or admit to the allegations of the Petition; the court would have to find the other requirements are met to adjudicate the “child in need of care” after stipulations or admissions.
The Disposition Hearing must take place within 30 days of the issuance of the Adjudication Order. (A continuance may be allowed by the court if good cause is shown by the person requesting it.). Sometimes the court will decide to hold this hearing on the same day as the Adjudication Hearing, which means foster caregivers may not receive notice of the hearing. The purpose of the Disposition Hearing is for the court to make its post-Adjudication ruling regarding the child’s disposition (i.e., custody to a parent, custody to a relative or other suitable person, guardianship to a nonparent, custody to DCFS, etc.). The court is required to make certain findings related to the dispositional alternative ordered. (For example, the judge may transfer custody of the child from DCFS to a relative, and such a decision can only be subsequently changed by the judge). If required, the court will also address the case plan, including whether it addresses the safety issues, meets the child’s needs, etc. The court may also make other orders at this hearing that are in the child’s best interest, help move the case forward, etc.
Case Review Hearing(s)
If the child was removed from their parents’ custody before the Disposition Hearing, the initial Case Review Hearing must take place 3 months after the Disposition Hearing. If the child was removed at the Disposition Hearing, the initial Case Review Hearing must take place within 6 months after the Disposition Hearing. Case Review Hearings must be held every 6 months thereafter until the child is permanently placed or the court so orders. The purpose of Case Review Hearings is for the court to review the: (1) continuing necessity for and appropriateness of the child’s placement; (2) progress toward mitigating causes necessitating placement in foster care; (3) safety of the child; (4) extent of case plan compliance by parents and DCFS; and (5) likely date by which the child may achieve permanency. It should be noted that judges have the authority to make custody decisions regarding the child at any of the hearings. For example, at a Case Review Hearing or another hearing, the judge may order that the custody of the child be transferred from DCFS to a relative.
If the child was removed from their parents before the Disposition Hearing, the initial Permanency Hearing must take place within 9 months after the Disposition Hearing. If the child was removed at the Disposition Hearing, the initial Permanency Hearing must take place within 12 months after the Disposition Hearing. This hearing must continue to be held at least once every 12 months until the child is permanently placed (or earlier if the court requests or a legal party so requests and there is good cause). The Permanency Hearing, however, must be held within 30 days of a determination by a judge that reunification of the child with his/her parents is not required. The purpose of the Permanency Hearing is for the judge to determine the child’s permanent plan (given that foster care is meant to be temporary), which is to be stable and lasting and occur as soon as possible. If it is safe for the child to return home, the court should order that the permanent plan be reunification or a concurrent plan including reunification or, perhaps, that custody be granted to one or both parents. Alternatively, if reunification is not possible, the court may approve a permanent plan of adoption, guardianship, custody with a suitable relative or individual, or an alternative permanent living arrangement (APLA) if the youth is 16 or 17 years old. The court should enter orders necessary for the timely achievement of the child’s permanent plan at this hearing.
Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)
The court may appoint a CASA for the child. CASAs are trained volunteers who: (1) provide independent, factual information to the court regarding the child and case; (2) advocate on behalf of the child as to what they perceive to be in the best interest of the child; and (3) monitor the CINC proceedings and advise and assist the court in its determination of the best interest of the child. If appointed, the CASA volunteer will meet with the child at least monthly. CASA volunteers routinely file written reports and recommendations with the judge and may be called as witnesses in hearings. Ordinarily, the same CASA volunteer remains with the child until the case is closed by the court. They are immensely helpful avenues of support and communication for the child and foster caregiver. For laws governing CASA, please refer to: Louisiana Children’s Code Articles 424-426.
Surrender and/or Termination of Parental Rights Answer and Hearing
In most cases, the goal of foster care is to reunify the child with his/her parents. However, in some cases, this is not possible. Sometimes the State decides to ask a court to terminate the parents’ rights to the child (which require that grounds for such a termination are proven by the State as provided in Louisiana Children’s Code Article 1015). On the other hand, sometimes the State decides not to ask a court to terminate parents’ rights to the child. The parents can also surrender their rights to the child. While a petition to seek the termination of the parents’ rights to the child can be filed at any time, DCFS must file the petition if the child has been in DCFS custody for 17 of the last 22 months, unless DCFS has documented in the case plan a compelling reason why filing is not in the best interest of the child. If the court determines that adoption is the most appropriate plan for the child, the foster caregiver can also file a petition to terminate parents’ rights if DCFS has not filed it and the child has been in DCFS custody under the foster caregivers’ care for 17 of the last 22 months (Louisiana Children’s Code Article 1004). Once a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights is filed, an Answer Hearing must follow within 15 days, and the Termination of Parental Rights Hearing must be held within 60 days of the Answer Hearing. (A continuance may be allowed by the court if good cause is shown by the person requesting it.).
A child can only be adopted from foster care if their biological and/or legal parents’ rights have been terminated or surrendered. Once a child is adopted, they are considered the child of the parents who adopt them. See Title XII of the Louisiana Children’s Code for more information on the adoption process and hearings.
Laws Governing CINC Hearings
Louisiana Children’s Code Articles 601-799, 1001-1040, 1101-1161, and 1167-1270. Please note that there is a lot more information about CINC hearings in the Louisiana Child in Need of Care Benchbook for Juvenile Judges. This resource may be found at: https://pelicancenter.org/benchbook.html and