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Courthouses Which House Juvenile Dependency Departments Within San Diego County

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San Diego currently has three different courthouses, each of which is home to at least one Department set aside for Juvenile Dependency Hearings.

The main Juvenile Courthouse is at 2851 Meadowlark Drive in central San Diego. This Courthouse is often known as the Meadowlark Juvenile Court because the Courthouse itself is tabbed to hear only matters involving children. Three Juvenile Dependency departments are strictly for Juvenile Dependency, although, on occasion, Child Welfare cases will go to the Assistant Presiding or Presiding Judge’s Courtroom for a hearing. However, this usually only occurs during the holidays or when a Judge assigned to a Juvenile Dependency courtroom is out.

The Juvenile Dependency Business Office is located on the 2nd Floor while all the courtrooms are on the 1st floor.  This Courthouse offers free parking in the main lot but has no vending machines or cafeterias.

As to San Diego’s East County Division, one Juvenile Dependency Department hears only Child Welfare cases. This court is located at 250 East Main Street in El Cajon. Both the Juvenile Business Office for East County and the one courtroom are on the 6th floor. This courthouse has vending machines containing light snacks and beverages on the main floor and second floor. Free parking is sometimes available in the Courthouse parking lot.

A Coffee Cart on the sidewalk between the Courthouse and Magnolia Theater is sometimes open in the mornings, allowing for fresh made caffeinated beverages as well as an array of pastries. However, when a Jury Trial is taking place, the lot becomes crowded and visitors often need to park on the street. Some of the streets only have two hour parking, so make sure to take note of any signage and move your car, when needed.

One Department in North County is utilized exclusively for child welfare proceedings.  Although this courthouse was recently renovated, the Juvenile Dependency Courtroom was not one of the renovated spaces.

This courthouse often has enough spaces in the parking lot for all visitors, but driving the lot a few times to find a space is sometimes required. The Cafeteria/Deli in this Courthouse serves beverages, pastries, sandwiches, and other snacks.

Both the Central Courthouse and Chula Vista Courthouse used to each have a Juvenile Dependency Courtroom. Those Departments were closed around 2018, before the COVID pandemic.

Child Abuse in San Diego County

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During the Summer of 2023, the County of San Diego began implementation of their newly created Child and Family Well-Being Department. Branded as a “new approach” to empowering parents, child, and extended family support, the goal is to utilize resources to strengthen the family unit and address issues that may lead to abuse or neglect.

Ideally, the unit is tasked with reducing child protective actions, and most notably, actions that separate children from their families, with a cross-sector collaborative approach.

Child Welfare Services, Behavioral Health Services, Juvenile Probation, San Diego County Office of Education, First Five, along with community based organizations, tribal partners and families with relevant lived experiences worked together to create the structure of the organization and the implementation of the overall plan.

Accessing plan prevention resources seems simple enough.  Resources can be accessed by self-referral, probation, CWS or CPS (including a hotline referral),  or any of the numerous community partners. From there, the family will need to actually utilize the services provided in the Prevention Hub.

Sometimes, issues persist. Sometimes, although some in the family are committed to making the family stronger, others are not, or different people have different approaches.  At times, families do not believe their children are truly at risk, when contacted.  Some families, choose other forms of assistance.  Some, do not get any help. 

However, when child welfare believes that children are being abused or neglected or at significant risk for abuse or neglect, CWS will still file a petition to remove the child. If reasonable efforts can be made to keep a minor in the home, those efforts should be taken to keep the minor in the home.  Yet, if the family has a history of declining services or is unwilling to collaborate with CWS, that may be enough to determine that no reasonable efforts would quash the situation.

From the start of the first contact, you can hire an attorney! 

You do not need to speak with anyone without an attorney present. But that attorney should be an experienced child welfare attorney. Julie is a Child Welfare Legal Specialist, a designation by the State Bar of California, the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC), and the American Bar Association. Julie has not only passed a written test but undergone a review from peers to attain and maintain the child welfare legal specialist certificate.

Minella Law Group can help, consulting with an experienced family law attorney who understands the issues can help alleviate your worries, contact us today for a complimentary consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Juvenile Dependency

What is Juvenile Dependency Court?

 

Juvenile Dependency Court was formed to address five important goals:

  • To ensure all children have a safe home 
  • To assist to preserve the family unit whenever possible by providing services which enhance and improve the physical and emotional wellbeing of children, while identifying and addressing potential issues which could lead to an unsafe environment
  • If a child cannot be in his or her home of origin, to place children first in a safe home with relatives or friend, and if not, a safe approved foster home
  • When a child cannot be returned to his or her parent because it would not be safe to return the child, to identify a permanent home for each child, or if a permanent home cannot be identified, a safe long term foster placement
  • To do items 1-4 in a way which keeps all records confidential to protect the privacy of children, their families, and others who assist in meeting items 1-4 on this list

When Can The Government Remove My Child From My Home?

 

The State of California allows for removal of children from their homes when there is actual or immediate danger to the child, and no reasonable services could be put in place to ensure the safety of the child.  The first step the County of San Diego, Juvenile Dependency Until (also know as Department of Children and Family Services, DCSF, Child Protective Services, CPS, or Child Welfare Services, CWS) is to file a petition with the Juvenile Court alleging that the child fall under Welfare and Institutions (WIC) Code Section 300.  

The filing of a petition under WIC 300 triggers the court to set Detention Hearing in Juvenile Court. This hearing MUST be set within five (5) business days from the child’s removal. 

 As such, you must act fast to secure qualified representation.  At the hearing, the court will determine whether the allegations in the petition meet the legal standard set in WIC 300 and if the allegations are true.  The Court will also determine if reasonable services can be provided to the home which would allow the child to remain in the home.  Thus, even if your child was removed before the detention hearing, there is a chance (albeit in experience, a small chance) that your child may be returned to your home after the hearing.

The government can remove your child from your home and place the child outside the family and into protective custody,  when the safety of the child cannot be assured in the home.  Many times, parents feel the child is safe in their home, but CWS feels differently.  When this occurs, the issues is set for a bench trial in front of a Juvenile Court Judge.  

In this hearing the County will have an attorney present, known as a Deputy County Counsel, the child will be appointed an attorney from Children’s Legal Services of San Diego (a non-profit agency with a government contract), and parents can appointed an attorney from Dependency Legal Services of San Diego (a non-profit agency with a government contract), OR you can hire a private firm, such a Minella Law Group.  At MLG, our caseloads are small and manageable. 

At the government contracted non-profits, attorney often have 150 cases OR MORE!  To most parents, their children are their #1 priority, and they want an attorney who is easily accessible to them who has the time and ability to go the extra mile.

Times are hard right now and many families struggle with finances, job security, reliable transportation, anxiety, and so many other issues.  CWS cases are almost always an extremely traumatic experience for everyone involved.  Many people are fearful and distrustful of CWS.  Parents are put in an adversarial position to defend against the government’s allegations of abuse and/or neglect. This adds more stress and anxiety to an already painful ordeal. 

This is when it is absolutely imperative that you have a seasoned child welfare attorney with strong trial experience on your side.  Hiring Minella Law Group gives you a fighting chance.  MLG’s Julie O. Wolff is not only a seasoned trial attorney who has been practicing Juvenile Dependency for over ten (10) years, she is a Child Welfare Legal Specialist, a designation through the California Bar Association, National Association of Counsel for Children, and the American Bar Association. 

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MLG also has several other attorneys with notable experience in Juvenile Court.  At MLG you will have a TEAM of attorneys with Juvenile Court experience on your side. For more information or to schedule an appointment or call us at (619) 289-7948. We look forward to helping you.