You can always ask the judge to appoint an attorney for you if you would like someone to help you or think you need one.
Attorney for the State/Children's Legal Services (CLS)
Attorney: The attorney who works for the Department of Children and Families. The attorney is usually called the Children's Legal Services (CLS) attorney, but might also be called an Assistant Attorney General or an Assistant State Attorney. The attorney for the state files the legal paperwork and is responsible for starting the case about you and your family in court. They talk to the court about what the state thinks is in your best interests. Remember, the attorney for the state is not your attorney and cannot keep what you say private, but they are important in presenting all of the facts to the court.
"Best Interests": The term everyone uses to describe what they believe is the right thing for you. The term means what people think will keep you safe and well.
Case: The name given to all information and papers about you and your situation. Remember, you are more than what some pieces of paper say.
Case Plan: A list of what needs to happen to help you and your family. Much of the case plan is aimed at what your parent needs to do for you to safely return home, such as your parent going to counseling. Some of the case plan may talk about what you or the agency has to do, such as you attending school, or your caseworker visiting you and your family. Whatever is in the case plan should be completed so the judge can make sure you are safe and decide if you can go home. If you cannot safely go home, the case plan will be about what you need and who should help you. You should be asked to participate in writing your case plan, and if you are not asked, you can tell your attorney, GAL, or the CLS attorney.
Caseworker/Case Manager/Care Worker: A person whose job is to provide and coordinate services in your case and contact you and your family regularly. It is important for you to work well with the caseworker and tell her or him what you want and need. The caseworker attends all hearings and tells the court what kind of services you and your family need. Your caseworker also prepares most reports for the court (for example the case plan and judicial review report). You can tell them what you want to go into the court reports.
Community-Based Care Provider (CBC): The organization in your community that the Department of Children and Families has agreed will provide services to you and your family. Your caseworker may work for another agency that has a contract with the CBC.
Court Hearing: The judge listens to the people and attorneys in your case and decides what should happen to help you.
Department of Children and Families (DCF): The state agency responsible for child protection and many services for families and children.
Dependency/Dependent: The words used to describe what happens when a child has been abused, neglected, or abandoned and the state acts to protect the child and help the family.
Extended Jurisdiction: While most parents complete their case plans and children are allowed to go home, some parents are not able or willing to keep children safe. In those situations, the case will stay open until permanency is arranged or until the youth turns 18. If you are turning 18 and are still in out-of-home care, you can ask the court to extend its jurisdiction to help you move to independent living or if you are having problems ,with your citizenship papers. Extended jurisdiction allows the court to continue to review your case and your GAL or attorney to stay active in the case. Also, you may be able to continue to receive services that are helpful to you. Ask your attorney, GAL, caseworker, or CLS attorney for more information about this option.
Foster Parent: Foster parents are trained and licensed adults who care for youth and must keep them safe until they can return home or live elsewhere.
Guardian ad Litem (GAL): GALs are specially screened and trained adults appointed by the court. They gather information about you and tell the judge what they think is in your best interests. They also tell the court what you want, so be sure to tell them. Remember, the GAL is not your attorney and cannot keep whatever you say secret. You are supposed to have a GAL, so be sure to tell the judge that you need one if you don't have one already.
Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program Attorney: An attorney assigned through the GAL program to work with your GAL. You may see the GAL program attorney in court or at other important meetings. Remember, like your GAL, this person is not your attorney and cannot keep what you say private.
Independent Living Program (IL): This term refers to services that help you learn what you need to know to become a successful adult. These services should begin when you are 13. For youth age 18 and older, the program is often called "Road to Independence." If you are 13 or over, you should have a transition plan, including a "teen plan" or "normalcy plan," as part of this program and the plan should be developed with you to help you become a successful adult.
Judge: The judge is a lawyer who has been elected by his or her community to make difficult decisions in legal disputes. Judges work very hard to figure out what is in your best interests and how to keep you safe. Judges decide what should happen after listening to everyone involved in your case.
Judicial Review Report: This report is written by the agency to give to the court at judicial review hearings, which are held every six months. This report is about you. You should let your caseworker know what you think and what you want to go into the report. You can ask the caseworker to attach things to the report like certificates of achievement, letters, awards, and other important items-but remember---everyone gets a copy of it. You should be given a copy of the report before the judicial review hearing, so make sure to ask your caseworker for it if you do not already have a copy. Also, if the caseworker does not give you the report, then make sure to tell the CLS attorney, your attorney or GAL, or the judge that you didn't receive a copy.
Protective Investigator (PI)/Child Protective Investigator (CPI): A person specially trained to spot abuse or neglect is called in the beginning of every case. The PI may work for the agency or for the local sheriff. The PI investigates what happened and reports to a team that decides if there is a big enough problem to remove you from your home for your safety. If there is a problem, the PI will take you to a safe place and help find a place to stay until a judge holds a hearing.
Parent: Many children are cared for by people other than a parent. In this section, the term parent refers to whoever was legally responsible for caring for you when the state took you from your home. A parent could include your birth parent, relative, legal guardian, custodian, or anyone else with whom you were living.
Parent's Attorney: A person who provides legal advice and guidance to your parent at every stage of the court process. The parent's attorney tells your parent about hearings they must attend and what to expect. They tell the judge what your parent wants and what your parent thinks is in your best interests. Remember, the parent's attorney is not your attorney and cannot keep what you say private.
Permanency: You will hear this word a lot during your court case, but it is sometimes not clear what it means. Everyone involved with the case is working towards permanency. Usually, permanency means you returning home once it is safe for you to be there. But, if it isn't safe for you to ever return home, permanency could mean adoption by someone else, living with a relative, or someone becoming your legal guardian. If none of these options are possible, permanency could be living on your own as an adult. If this option is the best one for you, the judge and others will make sure you have all the help you need to be a successful adult.
Time is of the Essence: These are words used to underline the urgency with which your case should be handled and your parent should complete his or her case plan. Everyone is required to do things sooner rather than later so that you can go home safely or go to another permanent home as soon as possible. In fact, the law makes you part of the decision when someone wants to take more time to do something. You, or your attorney or GAL, can tell the court you do not want to allow more time in some situations. The law is so concerned with getting you home safely as soon as possible that the time for your parent to complete the case plan has been shortened to nine months unless there are special circumstances. Even in the beginning of a dependency case, you should be consulted about requests made for continuances or extensions of time.
Transition Plan: The transition plan helps you plan for your future. You decide what goes into this plan, with help from the people who are working with you and anyone else you choose. Many things should be in your transition plan, including your education and career goals. It should list everything you need to become a successful adult, including who will help you with those things. You can include a "normalcy plan" or "teen plan" to help everyone understand what you are allowed to do at home and school and with friends.
Copyright © 2008, American Bar Association.
Reprinted with permission.