The law allows the state to step in and protect a child from abuse and/or neglect in a procedure known as a dependency action. The law that applies to dependency actions is found at RCW Chapter 13.34.
A dependency action begins when a petition (a written request) is filed in Superior Court. In Thurston County, dependency cases are heard at Family and Juvenile Court.
This petition must allege that the child is "dependent."
A "dependent child" is one who:
- Has been abandoned by his or her parent, guardian, or other custodian;
- Has been abused or neglected by a person legally responsible for his or her care; or
- Has no parent, guardian, or custodian capable of providing adequate care.
Your Rights and Responsibilities
- You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, the court will appoint one to you.
- You have the right to be notified about all court hearings.
- You have the right to an interpreter if you do not understand English. The court provides interpreters for youth and families in court.
- You have the right to talk to your social worker and your attorney. If they are unavailable when you call, leave a message with a phone number where you can be reached or try them again. Keep track of the best times to call them. Keep a record of your attempts to make contact with all professionals.
- You have a right and a responsibility to visit your child.
- Attend the court hearings and meetings.
- Comply with your treatment plan. If you cannot make an appointment, call your social worker and treatment provider ahead of time.
- Stay in touch with your attorney and social worker. You are responsible for providing them with your current address and phone number.
- Be aware of your court-ordered services. Keep track of your appointments in writing. Following through with your services increases the likelihood of your child being returned to your care.
The courtroom environment can be intimidating and families typically enter it during a time of high stress. The goal is to reunite the family as long as the child is safe.
Dependency Court Programs and Services to serve the public and assist the court in handling dependency cases include:
- Perinatal Harm Reduction ToolKit
- Prenatal and Postpartum Substance Use Disorder Brochure
- Substance Using Pregnant People (SUPP) Program- Provides substance using pregnant people immediate access to medical care.
- WA Department of Health Lactation Guidance and Patient Education
- WA Family Treatment and Healing to Wellness Courts