Child Protection / Child Protective Orders
Sometimes, where there are serious concerns that children may be suffering from abuse, neglect, or dependency, family members or others may feel the need to seek the court’s help in protecting those children from their legal guardians. Utah law allows both the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) as well as private citizens to bring child welfare actions to protect children from abuse or neglect. Private citizens can file for a child protective order, or a child welfare petition in juvenile court if certain conditions are met. The easiest and quickest way for a concerned party to ask the court to protect a child is by filing a child protective order. These petitions are available on the Online Court Assistance Program, and can be filled out and filed in just a few hours.
A child protective order may only be entered where there are credible allegations of ongoing or imminent physical or sexual abuse of a child. While emotional abuse or child neglect can be just as devastating to a child as physical or sexual abuse, the law does not allow the juvenile court to enter a child protective order in those cases.
Instead, it may be necessary to seek relief through a child welfare petition. These are the same types of cases filed by DCFS, and the juvenile court has many options for relief that can be granted to protect children who are subject to a child welfare petition. However, these are complicated cases, and there is a lot of case law dealing with parental rights in juvenile court. An attorney with experience in juvenile court can help navigate the statutes and case law to get relief where DCFS will not or cannot intervene.
Unfortunately, the ability of anybody to file a child protective order or child welfare petition means that many times allegations may be unfounded or exaggerated. Being wrongly accused of child abuse or neglect can be humiliating or worse. Failing to defend against unfounded allegations can result in the worst loss of all: the loss of custody of a child. Worse still, having the juvenile court remove one child from your home could mean that any other children could be removed in the future. These cases can have serious consequences, and all participants to these cases should be represented by attorneys. Not everyone is eligible for a free public defender, so finding an affordable attorney who knows the juvenile system is imperative.