If you are a child in foster care, there are rules and programs to help you and protect your rights. Learn about your rights in Juvenile Court when there is a hearing about you.
Before you go to foster care, the Juvenile Court has a hearing about you. At the hearing, your opinions and feelings matter. You have the right to attend the hearing and share your opinions.
Who is involved in your case?
At the hearing, there are several people including:
- The judge or magistrate. The judge or magistrate makes decisions about your case.
- Your caseworker. Your caseworker visits you and your family to make sure you are safe and have the help you need. If you need anything, tell your caseworker. Your caseworker shares information with the court so the judge can make decisions to help you.
- Your Guardian ad Litem (GAL) or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). Your GAL or CASA talks to you, your family and others. Your GAL or CASA tells the court what they think is best for you, regardless of whether you think that’s best for you.
- Lawyers. There may be several different lawyers at your hearing. Each lawyer has a client. There will be a lawyer that represents the public children services agency (PCSA) and your caseworker. Your parents may also have a lawyer that represents them. Neither of these lawyers are responsible for working for what you want--their responsibility is to work for what their client wants. You have the right to ask for a court appointed lawyer who will work for you. Your lawyer talks to you about the case and tells the court what you want. You can request a lawyer by asking your GAL, your caseworker or the judge.
- The bailiff. The bailiff supervises court security. The bailiff ensures that everyone is safe and follow the court’s rules.
- An interpreter. An interpreter listens to words in one language and says them in another. If you or your family members feel uncomfortable using English at court, an interpreter can translate to another language. If you want an interpreter, ask for one.
- The people involved in your case. Your parents or the people that caused your case attend your hearing. You may feel upset to see them. Prepare yourself emotionally to see them.
If you want to attend the hearing
- Tell people. Tell your Guardian ad Litem (GAL), lawyer or caseworker that you want to attend the hearing.
- Choose transportation or ask to attend remotely. Decide how to travel to court, or if that's not an option, talk to your GAL, lawyer or caseworker. They may be able to arrange a video or teleconference so that you may participate.
- Ask for an interpreter. If you are hearing impaired or English is not your best language, the court must provide a qualified interpreter.
- Choose appropriate clothing. The court may have clothing rules (like “no hats” or “no shorts”). Ask your GAL, lawyer or caseworker about the clothing rules.
- Visit the courthouse. If you feel nervous about going to court, ask your GAL, lawyer or caseworker to take you to the courthouse before your hearing to get more comfortable.
- Bring support. You can bring a support person to stay with you in court and talk to you after the hearing.
- Arrive early. On your hearing date, go to the courthouse early. Your GAL or lawyer may walk you through the courthouse and introduce you to the staff like the bailiff (who supervises court security) or the court reporter (who takes notes).
If you are unable to attend court, you can write a letter to the judge or magistrate. Give the letter to your GAL, lawyer or caseworker to bring to court. The letter is not private. Everyone involved in the case can read the letter.
If you were abused and attending a hearing could be too hard emotionally, the judge may order a video recording of your testimony (your official statement to the court). The video is recorded before the hearing so you do not have to face abusers in court.
When you're in court
During the hearing, or any interview with the judge, you should:
- Stand when the judge or magistrate does. When the judge or magistrate enters or exits the courtroom, you should stand to show respect. When the judge sits, you can sit, too. The court officer tells you when to sit and stand.
- Say “Your Honor.” Call the judge or magistrate “Your Honor.” Always speak respectfully.
- Answer the judge’s questions. Speak directly to the judge or magistrate. Only speak when the judge or magistrate asks you to speak. If you would like to speak, raise your hand to ask the judge for permission.
- Speak clearly. Before you go to court, write your thoughts so you remember what to say. Be clear and concise. The hearing is recorded by an audio recorder or court reporter, so you must answer all questions with words. Do not just nod your head.
- Think before answering. Before you answer questions, think about your answer. If you do not remember something, say “I don’t remember.” If you do not understand a question, say “I don’t understand the question.” If the judge asks if something happened, and you know it did not happen, say it did not happen.
- Tell the truth. You should always tell the truth in court.
- Do not argue. Do not argue or interrupt another speaker (even if you think they are wrong). Wait for your turn to speak. Speak calmly.
- Share your thoughts and feelings. If something is bothering you about the case, tell the judge or magistrate. You may not get what you want, but the judge must consider your side.
- Remember you can leave. If you are uncomfortable at any time, you may leave the hearing early. When the hearing is complete, leave the courtroom immediately.
- Talk about what happened. Have discussions with your GAL, lawyer, caseworker or support person outside the courtroom or in a private place. Before you leave the courthouse, make sure you understand the judge’s decisions, court orders and next steps in your case.