A parent’s journey

If a child is taken from home, it’s not always easy for parents to get their child back. Though there’s no single path for reuniting families, here’s one possible journey through Georgia's legal system.

The complaint

The case begins when someone complains about a parent, usually alleging child abuse or neglect. Within five days, a social worker investigates the claim.

Does the investigation turn up evidence of neglect or abuse?

The complaint is logged, and the case is closed.

Initial hearing

The social worker finds that the child isn’t safe at home and files a petition to take the child away from home. Within 72 hours, a judge will decide whether to grant the state temporary custody of the child. Unlike a typical court proceeding, hearsay is allowed during the hearing.

Does the judge order the state to take custody?

The child remains in the parents’ custody. The state continues to investigate the claim.

Temporary custody

The child is temporarily in state custody. The state must file a petition with the court within 30 days explaining why a child would be at risk at home.

Does the court find that the child is at risk of harm in the home?

The child must be returned home. The state may continue to investigate the case.

Reunion or adoption

The state is given temporary custody of the child, and the court places the child with a relative, if possible, or in foster care. Within 30 days, the state must present a case plan.

Which plan does the state present?

Parents’ history

The court considers whether the child’s parents have abused the child, have been convicted of murder, are registered sex offenders, or have failed to comply with a previous court-ordered plan.

Do any of the circumstances above apply?

Court orders

The plan to reunite the family is still on track. The parents must follow their court orders and the state must provide services that the family might need. The parents may be able to visit their child on a regular basis, and the court will continue to check up on the parents’ progress.

Does the court think that the child should return home?

The court will makes plans for the child to return home.

Permanency hearing

The child remains in state custody. If the child is still in custody after one year or nine months if the child is under 7 years old, then the court must make a decision.

Does the court decide to work toward reuniting the family or terminating the parents’ rights?

The court will outline a timeline for the child to return to his or her parents.

End of rights?

The state must prove that the parents should lose their child because: they failed to pay child support, abandoned or abused the child, or the state tried but failed to reunite the family. Parents may also voluntarily give up the child.The state will look for a permanent home for the child.

Does the court rule that the parents’ rights should be terminated?

The parent loses all legal rights to their child. The state will place the child into a another home.

A chance of going home

Regardless of whether there is sufficient proof to terminate the parent’s rights, a judge could still rule that the child should remain in the state’s custody.

Does the court rule that the child should remain in state custody?

The law is unclear. The state could return the child back to parents and close the case.

The child returns to be in temporary custody of the state, and the process of hearings continues.