When Social Services Intervenes

The County Department of Social Services (DSS or DHS) intervenes on the part of the State when there is concern that a minor child or children are abused, neglected or at risk of not being cared for by their parents.  The State exercises its power to intervene under the doctrine of parens patriae — the parent of its citizens — and pursuant to statutory authority under the Children’s Code (also known as the Juvenile Code), C.R.S. Title 19.

This is a very serious situation and obtaining legal counsel and representation is highly advisable.  The ultimate risk to parents is losing their parental rights at a termination proceeding and their children being placed for adoption.

Typical Dependency and Neglect (D & N) process with frequent court hearings where the parents must be present:

  • The initial custody hearing comes within 72 hours after the police or a caseworker obtains an order from the Court, usually without advance notice to the parents, placing the child’s temporary custody with the County Department of Social Services (DSS).  The initial hearing is used to determine the need for temporary placement of the child, give the parents notice of the process and request information regarding the child’s family members.  Social Services is typically directed to conduct a preliminary investigation.
  • The next hearing is usually called an advisement hearing where the Court is updated on the child’s situation and the parents receive more information on what the County is alleging happened and its plans for the case, which could be an informal adjustment or request for permission to file a Petition in Dependency and Neglect.
  • If the filing of a Petition is authorized, a Summons is issued and served upon the parents directing them to appear before the Court to answer the Petition alleging that the child is abused or neglected.  At the hearing on the Petition, the parents may enter a plea or response to the Petitioner either admitting or denying the allegations.  The parents may also request a trial before a jury on the issue of whether the children are dependent or neglected.
  • If the Petition is sustained — meaning, the allegations are admitted or, after a trial, the children are found to be dependent or neglected — the children are adjudicated dependent or neglected and the Court considers possible treatment plans.  The usual objective of a treatment plan is to rehabilitate the parents and then return the children to their care.  There are typically a number of court hearings scheduled to obtain updates on the progress of the plan.
  • If the treatment plan is not successful, Social Services may request the court to conduct a termination hearing where the Court will be asked to decide whether the parental rights of the parents should be terminated and the children placed for adoption.

The process described above is only a very general outline of the events in a Dependency and Neglect proceeding: there are a number of variations and alternative steps involved depending on the case.  The process is fast-paced and very time consuming.  Having legal counsel throughout the case is highly advisable.  For parents who are indigent and unable to afford counsel, the court will appoint an attorney to assist them.

During the proceedings, the County Department of Social Services is represented by the County Attorney.  The Court typically will appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL — an attorney) to investigate and represent the interests of the children.  The Court may also appoint a CASA worker (Court Appointed Special Advocate), who usually a volunteer from the community, to investigate and work with the family.  The parents will have an attorney, either private counsel or court appointed counsel.  Other interested parties or family members may have legal counsel as well at the proceedings.  Grandparent involvement is fairly common.

Martin Law Firm is available as private counsel for parents, grandparents or other interested parties or family members.  Early involvement in the case by legal counsel is important as there are many decisions to be made and very serious consequences.


The information provided above is general in nature, is not intended as legal advice for your particular situation and should not be relied upon without first consulting with legal counsel.  Martin Law Firm provides legal representation in dependency and neglect matters in the Denver, Colorado, metro area and will tailor its services to your particular needs and unique circumstances.