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The goal of this article is so you can better understand your rights and responsibilities and frequently used terminology, when dealing with Child Protective Services in the State of California.

The juvenile dependency system in California was set up to protect children from abuse and neglect. Governing United State law dictates that parents have a fundamental right to parent their own children, the way they want to parent them.  However, that fundamental right can be lost, either temporarily or permanently if the child is abused, neglected, or at a significant risk of abuse or neglect. The Juvenile Court hears cases to determine if a child is safe from abuse or neglect in the home of parents.  That case would begin after a petition is filed by the County of San Diego alleging the minor is in need of the court’s protection. 

Juvenile Dependency cases are filed as to the protection of the minor, not as to the parents. As such, if one parent is abusing the minor, but the other parent acts quickly and protectively to ensure the safety of the minor (for example, filing an Ex-Parte in Family Court to attain sole custody), CPS may not file a petition.

Duty of Care 

CPS or CWS has a legal duty to investigate claims of suspected child abuse and neglect. This duty applies regardless of the credibility of the accuser.

Juvenile Court utilities a myriad of esoteric terms. In fact, the investigating body protecting children, itself is often referred to with many different names, such as CPS, Child Protective Services, CWS, Child Welfare Services, HHSA, Health and Human Services, and more!

Importance of Legal Terminology

Terminology is important because specific terms can often be misconstrued or misinterpreted if not properly understood. In order to protect yourself, your children, and your interests, it is crucial that you understand key terminology when speaking with CPS, CWS, or whatever they are calling themselves these days.

Common Pitfalls

Common pitfalls in speaking to a social worker who is investigating your family include: misusing terminology, incorrectly understanding and/or utilizing terminology, obscuring facts and/or details, refusing to condone clearly risky and/or unsafe and/or blatantly inappropriate behavior of a family member, hiding important facts and/or details, outright lying,  

What Can Hiring an CPS/Child Welfare Attorney Do

Hiring an attorney when dealing with CPS in California can provide numerous benefits. Some of the ways in which hiring an attorney can help include:

  • Protecting your rights: An attorney can ensure that your rights as a parent or guardian or even a relative, are protected throughout the CPS process. They can advise you on what to say and do during interviews and meetings with CPS to avoid self-incrimination, and also, what not to say.
  • Providing legal expertise: Child Welfare Legal Specialists have in-depth knowledge of the relevant laws and regulations. They can use this expertise to develop a strong legal strategy and advocate for your rights.
  • Negotiating on your behalf: An attorney can negotiate with CPS on your behalf to ensure that your concerns and preferences are taken into account, including placement preferences if you children will be removed from your care. They can work towards a resolution that is in the best interest of both you and your child.
  • Representing you in court: If your case goes to court, an attorney can represent you and present your case before a judge. They can present evidence, call witnesses, cross examine experts, and argue your position effectively.

Hiring an attorney can provide peace of mind, knowing that you have a dedicated legal professional advocating for you and your family. Competent legal counsel will not only protect your rights and advocate for you, but will also safeguard you and your family from the initial investigatory process, through the court process, and even with juvenile court Exit Orders that will carry over to Family Court.

Although we have a list of common terms below, we believe legal counsel is essential to protecting your rights to safeguard your future.  Our office offers FREE consultations, to discuss how we can assist you.

CA – California

USA – United States of America

CPS – Child Protective Services

CWS – Child Welfare Services

DCFS – Division of Child and Family Services

HHSA – Health and Human Services

FCS – Family Court Services

WIC  – Welfare and Institutions Code

ICWA– Indian Child Welfare Act

UCCJEA – Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act

IEP – Individualized Educational Plan

ROI – Release of Information

Psych Eval – Psychological Evaluation

PAT – Paternity

FC – Family Code

EV– Evidence Code

WIC – Welfare and Institutions Code

NCD– Next Court Date

CoCo– County Counsel

MC – Minors Counsel 

PJ – Presiding Judge

CLSSD – Children’s Legal Services of San Diego, a non-profit law firm, which holds the government contract for representation of minor children in Juvenile Dependency Hearings in San Diego County

DLSSD – Dependency Legal Services of San Diego, a non-profit law firm, which hold the government contract for representation of parents in Juvenile Dependency Proceedings in San Diego County

SW – Social Worker

SW Sup – Social Worker Supervisor

NREFRM – A person who knows the child well or is close to the child’s family but is not a relative

Relative – Someone connected to the minor by blood, to the 4th degree of separation

GAL – Guardian ad Litem

CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates, are a national association within the United States of America that support and promote court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children who are dependents of Juvenile Court. CASAs are volunteers from the local community who complete special trainings provided by their local CASA Office. They are appointed by the Judge presiding over the minor’s case. Their role is to get to know the individual minor, gather information and write a report making recommendations to the Court in the best interests of the child, keeping the child’s particular wishes in mind.

DeFacto  Parent – A designation granted by the Court to an individual or individuals who have met a minor child’s physical, mental and emotional needs for at least six (6) months. The individual or individuals must first file a motion for DeFacto Parent Status, with the Court, to be provided this designation.

RFA – Resource Family Approval

KIN-GAP – Kinship Guardianship Assistance Payment Plan

Emergency RFA – Resource Family Approval on an emergency basis

ICPC – Interstate Compact on Placement of Children

PC – Protective Custody

PCC – Polinsky Children’s Center Receiving Home

TDM – Team Decision Meeting

CFT – Child and Family Team Meeting

DV – Domestic Violence

Detention– The Initial Detention Hearing after the child is removed from home

J/D – The “J” stands for Jurisdiction and the “D” stands for Disposition. The Jurisdiction/Disposition Hearing is often held at the same time. If the hearings are not held together, the Jurisdiction Hearing must occur before the Disposition Hearing.

FMR – Family Maintenance Review Hearing

SRH – Status Review Hearing

SC – Status Conference

FR -Family Reunification Services

21e – Welfare & Institutions Code Section 366.21 (e), 6 month review hearing

21f – Welfare & Institutions Code Section 366.21 (f), 12 month review hearing

22 – Welfare & Institutions Code Section 366.22, 18 month review hearing

25 – Welfare & Institutions Code Section 366.21 22 month review hearing

26 – Selection and Implementation hearing

TPR – Termination of Parental Rights

PP – Permanent Plan for a child

PPP – Post Permanent Plan for a child

PPLA – Permanent Planned Living Arrangement for a child

388 – Motion to Change a Court Order filed by an interested party

OSC – Order to Show Cause

PSC– Pretrial Status Conference, prior to scheduled trial date

SBRA -Sexual Behavioral Risk Assessment

UA – Urine Analysis

PF –  Prima Facie

CG – Caregiver of minor child

FFA – Foster Family Agency

CWLS – Child Welfare Legal Specialist Attorney Designation, a designation of legal specialty from the American Bar Association, California Bar Association, and National Association of Counsel for Children

COC – Clerk of the Court

CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

I/C – Incarcerated

PC – Potential Client

ADR – Alternate Dispute Resolution

SDCBA – San Diego County Bar Association

SDPD – San Diego Police Department

SDSD  – San Diego Sheriff Department

FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation

CHP – California Highway Patrol

DPO – Deputy Probation Officer

BIA – Bureau of Indian Affairs

NACC – National Association of Counsel for Children

AOD – Alcohol and Drug Assessment

AA – Alcoholics Anonymous

NA – Narcotics Anonymous

DUI – Driving Under the Influence

DWI – Driving While Intoxicated

METH – Methamphetamine 

MJ – Marijuana

THC – Marijuana


DOB – Date of Birth

DOD – Date of Death

This list does not encompass every single term. If a social worker is using terms you do not understand, ask for clarification. If clarification is not provided, stop the conversation, and consider hiring a qualified attorney to ensure a productive and positive dialogue, and give the best chance for a positive outcome. 

By seeking competent legal advice and representation, you will navigate the CPS process with clarity and confidence to ensure your rights and interests are protected.

Why Hire Minella Law Group?

Minella Law Group has a comprehensive team of staff ready to advocate toward your goals. Julie O. Wolff is a Child Welfare Legal Specialist who has practiced in juvenile dependency court’s for over ten years. Additionally, Attorney Cary Grant, has experience in Juvenile Dependency Court. We also have a team of certified paralegals with knowledge of the juvenile dependency process.

Our team is equipped to take on new or existing cases involving child welfare / CPS.  Please call our family law office today to schedule a complimentary consult with one of our attorneys.   619.289.7948

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