Virginia's Judicial System

Lynchburg Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court: Child Abuse and Neglect

The content of this page was provided by the Lynchburg Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court and has been posted on Virginia's Judicial System Web site as a courtesy to the Lynchburg Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.

Abuse and Neglect of children may be charged as a crime. The information in this section is about child abuse and neglect in civil proceedings.

Abuse and Neglect Defined

An abused or neglected child is one whose parent or custodian creates, inflicts, allows, or threatens physical or mental injury (other than by accidental means). In addition, abuse or neglect has occurred when the parent or custodian:

  • creates a risk of death, disfigurement, or impairment;
  • neglects or refuses to provide the care that is necessary for the child's health (unless being treated according to practices of a recognized religion); or
  • allows a sexual act to be committed against the child.
An abused or neglected child may also be one whose parent or guardian is absent or whose parent is mentally or physically unable to provide care. The definition also applies to unborn children when pregnant mothers abuse drugs or alcohol.

Investigations of Complaints of Child Abuse or Neglect

Any person who has suspects that child abuse or neglect has occurred may report it to the Lynchburg Division of Social Services at 455-5727 or through the Department of Social Services' toll-free child abuse and neglect hotline in the telephone directory. Some professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and teachers are required by law to report suspected abuse. The Department of Social Services then investigates the reports of suspected abuse or neglect.

Child Protective Orders or Orders Removing the Child from the Parent/Guardian may be Issued by a Court

If the family fails to cooperate, Social Services can file a Petition with the Intake Officer of the Court Service Unit of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court for a Protective Order for the child. If the situation is too severe or the child cannot be safely maintained at home, Social Services will file a Petition for a Removal Order with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.

Preliminary Protective Order

Issued by the court, a Preliminary Protective Order requires a parent or custodian to do certain things, such as improve hygiene, provide appropriate housing, send the child to school, get medical attention, or refrain from certain offensive behavior such as physical discipline or exposing the child to inappropriate activity. It also requires that the parents or guardian cooperate with the Division of Social Services to assure the health, safety. and proper care of the child. A Preliminary Protective Order can be issued ex parte (with the court only hearing from the Division of Social Services and without notice to the parent or guardian). If the order is issued ex parte, within five days, the court must hold a Preliminary Protective Order hearing with notice to all interested parties and opportunity to be heard.

Emergency Removal Order

An Emergency Removal Order (removing the child from the home) can be entered ex parte (with the court only hearing from the Division of Social Services and without notice to the parent or guardian) when the danger to the child is imminent and sufficiently severe or when there is no less drastic alternative. Within five days, the court must hold a Preliminary Removal Hearing with notice to all interested parties and opportunity to be heard.

Preliminary Removal Hearing

Prior to the five-day removal hearing, the parent or custodian must be given notice of the hearing and a copy of the petition and the opportunity to retain counsel to represent the parent or guardian or to request that the court appoint an attorney to represent him or her if that parent or guardian is indigent. An attorney (also referred to as a Guardian ad litem) will be appointed to represent the best interests of the child. At the five-day hearing, the court will hear evidence and decide whether the child is abused or neglected. If, at the five-day hearing, a party objects, the decision on abuse or neglect can be delayed for up to 30 days.

Whether or not the court decides the child is neglected or abused, the child may remain in temporary foster care and certain services will be ordered. The parents can be ordered to participate in specific programs designed to remedy the situation that led to removal. If a decision is made that child abuse or neglect occurred at the 5-day hearing or at the 30 day hearing, a dispositional hearing must be held within 75 days of the five-day hearing.

Dispositional Hearing

The dispositional hearing decides the custody of the child. The court may return custody to the parent with certain conditions and requirements, place the child in the custody of Social Services (foster care), or place the child with a relative.

Court Appointed Special Advocates: CASA

When a child is brought to court and is alleged to be abused or neglected, CASA Volunteers are often appointed to speak up for that child, to provide information to the court about the child's best interests, and to help the child understand the legal proceedings in which he/she is involved. The CASA may also be assigned to children who are in Need of Services or in Need of Supervision.

CASA works closely with the child's court-appointed attorney (guardian ad litem). CASA prepares a written report that is sent to the judge hearing the case.

CASA Functions

The CASA gets to know the child by visiting him/her as often as possible (both in and out of the child's home). The CASA researches the child's background by reviewing records (school, medical, etc.) and by interviewing persons who know the child (doctors, teachers, neighbors, relatives, etc.). The CASA assesses what is in the child's best interests and makes recommendations to the judge regarding placement and services. Additionally, the CASA will monitor court orders to assure the child receives court-ordered services.

CASA's Relation to the Child for Whom the CASA Advocates

CASA volunteers offer children trust and advocacy. They will explain to the child the events that are happening, the reasons they are in court, what happens after court, and the roles the judge, lawyers, and social workers play. CASA volunteers, while remaining objective observers, will encourage the child to express his/her own opinions and hopes.

Safe for the Child to be Alone with CASA

It is safe for the child to be alone with the CASA appointed to advocate for that child. Volunteers must pass rigorous background checks, supply references, submit to staff interviews, and successfully complete extensive training. After those steps are completed, each CASA is officially "sworn in" by a judge. It is important that the CASA be able to spend one-on-one time with the child.

CASA Recommendations

The CASA is obligated to make recommendations to the judge deciding the child's case. The CASA recommendation may differ from that of the parent(s) or the Department of Social Services.

Benefits to the Child who has a CASA

The child who has a CASA will understand that there is one special person whose purpose is to help him/her. Consequently the system may seem a little less overwhelming. The judge receives important information to assist him/her in making a decision about the child's future. The services ordered by the judge for your child will be monitored by his/her CASA.

Length of CASA's Service to the Child

A CASA works with your child until released from the case by a judge. This could vary from a few months to a year or more.

CASA of Central Virginia
P.O. Box 3062
Lynchburg, VA. 24503
Phone: (804) 528-2552
Fax: (804) 528-2551

Foster Care

Permanent planning for your child's future will begin immediately after a child goes into foster care. If the parent cooperates with services provided and corrects the conditions that resulted in removal from the parent's custody, then the goal will be return home to the parent within a year or less. If the child cannot be returned to the parent or former custodian within a year after that child entered foster care, then the plan must be custody with another relative, permanent foster care or terminating parental rights and freeing the child to be placed for adoption.

Frequent plans for the child's future, called foster care plans and review hearings are held in court. The first foster care plan must be filed within 60 days after the child enters foster care. The plan must address how to correct the conditions that brought your child into care. The court at the 75-day dispositional hearing usually reviews this 60-day plan.

The second foster care plan review must occur within six months of the first review. Social Services must be specific about the goal they are seeking and justify that goal. If the child remains in foster care, the court must schedule a permanency planning hearing within five months of the second foster care review.

Within about a year, a permanent placement is desirable for the child and the child will no longer continue in foster care unless there are very unusual circumstances.

Permanent Foster Care

Permanent foster care is only available after a court decides that return to a family member and adoption have been thoroughly investigated and are not a choice for the particular child.

"Permanent foster care status" places the child with a specific family and the child cannot be moved from that placement without a court order. It also give the foster parents expanded authority in decision-making in a child's life about such things as medical decision, military service, marriage and motor vehicle operator's license.

Termination of Parental Rights

When the conditions that lead to the child's placement in foster care cannot be corrected within a reasonable time despite the services that have been provided, the parental rights of a parent or parents may be terminated and the child placed for adoption.