Parents Guide To The Juvenile Court System
A parent's guide to the basic in's and out's of the juvenile court system including basic glossary.
Family Court, governed by the County and served by elected Judges, is the most intricate legal system in the country. There are a multitude of issues and ages which are funneled through daily, making this court’s calendar a “cup that
If your child has been or is at risk to be drawn in to the Family/Juvenile Court System, there are some basics you, as a parent/guardian must know.
Before you and your child make an appearance in the court room, there are many hands already stirring this legal pot.
First, you must determine who your friends are, in this legal pot. If your child is attending or associated with a school, get all his records. Your local Board of
Education holds these. Making a formal request may require a fee, however, this is small in comparison to the high price your child could pay if you remain an uninformed parent. I know this from personal experience.
Once you have his/her records, read them thoroughly. Believe me, it will be an eye opener. This academic blueprint is the measure by which your child is initially judged. It will show you who is friend and who is foe in this area.
We had moved from the suburbs to the city after my divorce, and my son had skipped three days of school in a two month period just prior to this move. The school's guidance counselor and principal were very helpful in addressing this
issue with Jason and myself and no formal charges or formal record entry would reflect this as long as he continued to attend regularly. He did. I was pleased that I had their support, and felt this was a good example of fairness as
my son had no truancy or behavior issues prior to this.
Now, in a new home, new school district, and new school, it seemed perfectly natural in a casual conversation to apprise the principal of the changes in our lives and my son’s corrected history of truancy. I felt comfortable in requesting his aid in “befriending” Jason to stay abreast of any possible future issues. The principal agreed, adding that he wished more parents would address
behaviors early on. What a relief to know I had his support.
As a mom working full time, I was confident that with the principal's support and the values already instilled in my children we would be fine.
Within three months, however, I received a notice to appear with my 13 year old son before a Family Court Judge regarding a petition initiated by this school’s principal, which recommended he be considered for a P.I.N.S. (Person
In Need of Supervision). I had not been called by the school prior to this nor informed in any way that a problem existed. We appeared in court and the judge’s decision was to A.D.C. (Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal) the
case. It turned out that my son had been late for school two times in one month, and was absent twice. The absence was due to verified and excused illness. The lateness was not. The Judge was obviously incensed at the trivialness of this principals charges and abuse of court time. This did, however, start a file on my son and he was indeed “in” the system.
Following this experience, I did speak with the principal who informed me that my son did not conform and would probably not make it in school. What???? Jason is a “B” student. Is this the same man I spoke with just three months
I would not let this determine my son's future. It was time to get Jason’s school records. I was shocked as I read. The principal had him “marked” as a troublemaker from day one and had penned for permanent viewing...”Jason has the attitude that he is better than others because he comes from the suburbs. This is also reflected in his mother’s attitude.” This was very damaging as every person who had access to these records could base their decisions, in part, on this. Although other entries by Jason’s teachers were positive, I felt that this one “blemish” had to be investigated.
Information I gathered from teachers and classmates showed a definite bias. In the presence of teachers and peers this principal (known for his antiquated methods) had not only singled out my son, but would make remarks such as: ”I
am watching you. One wrong move and you are out.” This made for a very uncomfortable situation. My son had previously complained to me... without specifics, but at the time, I just assumed it was more a matter of adjustment
than one of serious concern. After all, I had not gotten this impression in my conversations with this principal.
This is why I say....know who is friend and who is foe.
If your child is referred to court through your local police for an offense, (truancy, shoplifting, fighting, drinking, breaking curfew, hanging with “known”
offenders,etc.) get the police report and speak with the referring/arresting officer(s). This establishes a relationship with this authority and reinforces
your level of concern and ability to handle the situation. It may be necessary to request their presence in court to reiterate conversations that may be of help to your child.
If the judge does order your child be placed on P.I.N.S. , he/she may meet with a Probation Officer (one who is a county employee charged with following the path/progress of your child, and has the option to recommend continuance of
discontinuance of the P.I.N.S. petition to the court.) He/she may also meet with a social worker or psychologist who will document conclusions made during their visit. Also, if need be, a Law Guardian may be appointed to
address your child’s legal defense and enforce his/her legal rights.
If you and your child disagree with the Judge’s decision, you may request a trial. However, a trial in Family Court is not one inwhich a jury of peers sets the final verdict. A “trial” is the gathering of all participants (principals,
teachers, police, probation officer(s), psychologists, social workers, etc.) who have been a part of developing your child’s permanent record. As in any court of law, the defense (your child and their legal representative) are given the opportunity to state their case, presenting whichever persons and/or documentation are to your advantage. In turn, the Prosecution....the system... presents theirs. If you have done your homework, collecting all records pertaining to your child and the issue at hand, you will have that much more to argue your case with. This should include letters of recommendation
from teachers, coaches, religious affiliates, and whom ever has had consistent contact with your child and has favorable comments. If not, chances are the judge will not reverse or modify his/her decision.
Be aware, that this system is over burdened with cases and clients and in order for you to have at hand all information which becomes part of your child’s file, you MUST request all records immediately. If the probation officer is sending off a letter to the social worker or visa versa, request copies also be sent to you. This is your right. Do not take “No” for an answer. Every piece of
information becomes part of your child’s permanent record, and is included in the file withwhich the Family Court Judge will base all his/her decisions. It is to yours and your child’s advantage that you are fully informed. Do not rely solely on the Law Guardian as he/she is already over worked.
Whether or not your child is a first time or repeat offender....do not, under any circumstances abandon them to the system. This is still your child and in the long run your determination and efforts will pay off. Leave no stone unturned, no question unasked, no feeling unaddressed.
Though in some cases, this may require you , as a parent, to put this above all else in your life, jobs, relationships, etc., you are obligated to be there for your
child as his/her support system. It makes all the difference, believe me, I know.
My son’s experience in this system (which for a time, was on a downward spiral) would have marked him for life and left him a lost soul had I not smartened up, become better informed and made every effort to retain my authority as his parent. I watched as other parents threw up their hands and let the chips fall where they may. Or worse, agreed the child was “no good,” believing that the child would “learn a lesson,” and be better off for it. This is
not true. Today, the majority of these children who are now young adults are no better off than the day they first stepped foot in the courtroom door or are presently in jail because they were left to the mercy of the system. Courts...the Law...has no mercy...no emotion...no obligation to nurture as a parent does.
I am not criticizing the Family Court System. It serves every domestic and juvenile issue within an entire County. It is due for reform, but in lieu of this...you the parent(s) has to take an active role in forcing this to function
optimally. Or at least with a degree of fairness.
Here are some terms and their definitions that you may encounter:
FAMILY COURT: A County justice system bound by certain laws to address domestic as well as juvenile issues that require legal intervention.
HEARING: A request for appearance before a Family Court Judge to present evidence and reach a decision within the boundaries of the courts jurisdiction.
LAW GUARDIAN: A court appointed lawyer charged with fair representation of a defendant in a legal matter.
P.I.N.S. : Person in Need of Supervision, basically assumes that the juvenile is lacking effective supervision through family, parents or guardians. It then assumes this responsibility, in part, for a period of time.
P.I.N.S. DIVERSION: This is an alternative to a court appearance and is determined by a Probation Officer whether or not the offense falls within its boundaries. It was instituted to handle lesser offenses in order to free up the
court’s heavy schedule and resolve issues that may not require a Judge’s decision. Usually for first time offenders.
PROBATION DEPARTMENT: This is an area of the County legal system which oversees those deemed guilty of an offense requiring monitoring for a period of time.
PROBATION OFFICER: One who is bound by the law to uphold a position of monitoring in accordance with preset boundaries. These are, however, very broad and rarely enforced boundaries and can include unannounced home,
school or place of employment visits. Interviews with classmates, teachers and even neighbors are not uncommon.
YOUTH DETENTION FACILITY: A holding center for juveniles awaiting a hearing or placement outside of the home.
YOUTH COURT: Usually initiated and developed by a local police department, this court’s decisions are made by a jury of peers, within preset boundaries. It’s cases are of low level offenses such as: malicious damage to
property (graffiti), or being involved in a fight which did not result in injury, or breaking curfew, etc. This relatively new concept, is not found in all areas and
is not directly associated to Family Court but may refer there. The level of disciplinary action usually involves a period of community service, restoration and/or financial compensation.