Child Protection Proceedings
A child protection proceeding is a civil case that is initiated in the Circuit Court Family Division seeking protection of the child rather than seeking the punishment of a parent or guardian. It is the purpose of the Juvenile Code, which governs child protection proceedings, to protect children from unfit homes or environments. Such a proceeding may be initiated by anyone who has information that a child is in need of the court's protection.
If you believe that a child's caregiver has committed an act of child abuse or child neglect, please report the suspected abuse or neglect to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services by contacting Michigan's Centralized Intake center at (855) 444-3911.
Overview of Child Protective Proceedings
A child protection proceeding follows several key steps, depending upon the facts underlying the case.
1. The ORDER TO TAKE AND PLACE. If the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services believes that a child's welfare is in imminent danger due to a threat posed by a custodial parent, the Department may request that the court issue an Order to Take and Place the child into protective custody. Such an order may be issued any time, day or night, based upon the needs of the child. If the court issues an order to take and place the child, the parent has the right to contest the order within 24 hours of the removal of the child from their care. The Department must file a Petition prior to the preliminary hearing that will be scheduled within 24 hours.
2. The PETITION. If there is no emergency removal of a child, the Petition is the first step in the child protection proceeding. If an emergency removal has been authorized by the court, then the petition is the second step in the proceeding. A petition is filed, typically by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, although there are other individuals authorized to file child protective petitions. The petition will set out the facts and legal basis that the petitioner believes support the trial court taking jurisdiction over the child so that the court may protect the child.
3. The PRELIMINARY HEARING or PRETRIAL CONFERENCE. If the court has authorized an emergency removal of the minor child from a parent's care, the court will need to hold a preliminary hearing to determine whether it is contrary to the welfare of the minor child for the minor child to be returned to the care of that parent and what reasonable efforts were extended by the State to prevent the removal. The preliminary hearing will be held within 24 hours of the child's removal from the parent's care. If no removal is sought, but the petitioner simply believes that the court needs to be involved to protect the child, there will not be a preliminary hearing; instead the court will schedule a pretrial conference prior to the adjudication trial.
4. The ADJUDICATION TRIAL. The petitioner bears the burden of proof by preponderance of the evidence at an adjudication trial to show that one or more facts as alleged in the petition that was filed are true and that as a result the court should take jurisdiction over the child. The parent may request that the case be tried as a bench trial (before the judge) or as a jury trial. If the judge or the jury determines that the petitioner has proved one or more facts and that jurisdiction should be taken, the trial court will then enter into disposition. Alternatively, a parent may tender a plea of no contest or of responsibility to the petition, which will subject the parent and the child's to the court's jurisdiction.
5. The DISPOSITIONAL PHASE. Once a parent has been adjudicated responsible for child abuse or child neglect under a child protection petition, the court determines what disposition to enter into for that parent and child. In the most severe cases, the court may order that a parent's parental rights to the child be terminated at the initial disposition. This, however, is reserved for cases where the parent posed a very high risk of injury or death to the child, or where the parent perpetrated a serious violent or sexual assault against the child. In all other cases, the court will order that the parents participate in a treatment program in order to improve their parenting skills with the goal of reunifying the child with the parent.
If the court enters a order for the parent to participate in a treatment program, but the parent is unsuccessful, the petitioner may file a supplemental petition in the case asking the trial court to terminate the parent's parental rights to the child. The parent does not have the right to demand a jury trial on such a supplemental petition because under Michigan law, such a petition is merely an extension of the trial court's initial dispositional order.
If the parent succeeds in participating in their treatment plan and the barriers to reunification are removed, the trial court will order the child to be returned home.
6. The STATUTORY REVIEW HEARINGS and PERMANENCY PLANNING HEARINGS. If the Family Court did not terminate a parent's parental rights to their child at the initial dispositional hearing in the case, the court must hold a statutory review hearing every 90 days to determine the parent's progress with their treatment plan and determine the child's wellbeing in foster care. Additionally, at least every 12 months the court needs to review what it has determined to be the child's permanency goal at a permanency planning hearing. If the court does not believe that the parent is making satisfactory progress toward their treatment goals, the trial court may order that the petitioner file a supplemental petition asking for termination of the parent's parental rights over the child.
The Prosecutor's Role
The Prosecuting Attorney's office represents the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services child welfare program. This means that the Prosecuting Attorney provides the social workers at the Department with legal guidance and advice on how best to proceed in specific cases. The APAs are consulted in determining whether there are sufficient facts to support seeking a court order to take and place the minor child, to file a child protective petition, and termination of parental rights petitions.
The Prosecuting Attorney's Office will appear in court with the Department's social workers, representing the Department at each phase of the child protection proceeding. If a parent's parental rights are terminated, the Prosecutor's Office will file briefs on any appeals taken by the parents, and will continue representing the Department as it seeks the adoption of a child whose parents' parental rights were terminated.