Dependency Law involves cases where a family comes to the attention of a Department of Social Services. A family’s involvement with a Social Services Department can occur in many different ways including: (1) a mandatory reporter (teacher, counselor, doctor, therapist and other professionals) are either told by a child they are being abused at home or the reporter recognizes symptoms of either physical and/or sexual abuse; (2) a child makes a complaint of neglect or physical and/or sexual abuse which triggers an investigation by the police and the Department of Social Services; (3) an arrest of a parent or caretaker for domestic violence, possession of drugs, driving under the influence or other crimes which may indicate children living with the arrested parent may be at risk for abuse and/or neglect; (4) a neighbor, friend of the family or an acquaintance may file a report with a Social Services Department indicating children may be at risk for neglect or abuse by one or both of the parents; (5) one parent may make an allegation the other parent has either physically or sexually abused one of their children; (6) any other way potential issues of potential abuse and/or neglect come to the attention of a Social Services Department.
In any case where an investigation is conducted by a Department of Social Services there becomes a very real chance all of the children in the home being removed and placed in foster care or with a relative. Depending on the seriousness of the allegations being made the removed children may never be allowed to return home and could end up being adopted by strangers.
In virtually all counties in the State of California, with the recent exception of Los Angeles County, dependency cases are closed to the public, are confidential in nature and all proceedings are shrouded in secrecy. The secretive nature of the proceedings often lead to horribly unjust decisions being made which would not occur if the proceedings were open to the public and press, like criminal and civil cases are, and subject to the scrutiny of the general public and the press. Hopefully in the near future all dependency court proceedings will be opened to the public and the gross injustices that permeate virtually all aspects of the dependency proceedings will come to an end.
In the field of dependency law social workers have virtually unlimited power to tear apart families for issues as small as a family having a “dirty house”. Further, there exists a “shoot first and ask questions later” nature in a Social Service “investigation”. Many of the “investigations” are initiated by highly questionable allegations without any true investigation into whether the allegations are true or false. There have been countless cases where divorce and/or child custody cases result in false allegations being made against one parent. In many of these cases the Social Service Department blindly accepts the allegations as true and have Restraining Orders issued against the accused parent. Situations like the one outlined above happen at an alarming rate and in the end it is the children who suffer; even though Social Service Departments are supposed to be doing what is in the best interest of the children.
There is also an alarming rate of false allegations of sexual abuse of a child being made against a parent based upon vague allegations that quickly escalate to children being turned into a victim by the very organization that is supposed to be protecting the children; Social Services Departments. Suggestive and leading questions, telling the child they have done nothing wrong and making disparaging comments about the parent alleged to have abused the child, therapists affiliated with Social Services Departments who reinforce the child is a victim are all common practices by Social Services Departments during the handling of allegations involving child molestation.
Once an allegation of serious child abuse and/or molestation is made the child is immediately thrust not only into the criminal justice system but is also contacted by the Child Abuse Services Teams (“CAST”). These CAST teams are composed of (1) police agencies; (2) prosecutors; (3) social workers; (4) victim advocates and (5) health care workers (doctors and therapists). These CAST teams do not include any representatives for those accused of child abuse or molestation.
Dependency cases can be extremely scary for the families involved in the cases because oftentimes the parents have very little say in the outcome of the cases. Court’s will oftentimes act as “rubber stamps” for the County Counsel Offices. The County Counsel Offices represent the various Social Services Departments. Many times the Court’s will blindly accept whatever recommendation is made by the County Counsel assigned to the individual Court’s.
In Orange County the same Judge, County Counsel, attorney who represents the involved children (usually The Law Offices of Harold LaFlamme) and the Public Defenders and Juvenile Defender’s (who usually represent the parents) will work together the same Courtroom for years. This oftentimes creates an incestuous environment where decisions such as removal of children from their parents care, termination of parental rights or children being adopted occur in a rather cavalier atmosphere and true aggressive representation rarely occurs.
Sean Hennessey has been in courtrooms where there is a food buffet present in the Courtroom in order to celebrate a birthday or other special occasions. In the midst of this celebratory environment parents are having their children removed or are having their parental rights terminated. Scenes like those described above happen at an alarming rate and each time Sean Hennessey is shocked at the scene occurring in Court’s where children are being separated from their parents and parents are losing their legal rights as parents.
Dependency Law is an extremely complex and specialized area of the law. There are very few lawyers who are certified to practice dependency law. Sean Hennessy is one of the few lawyers who is certified to practice dependency law in the State of California. Sean Hennessey is well known by Judges, social workers, County Counsel’s, the lawyers who represent the children, Public Defenders and Juvenile Defenders who are the normal “players” in any Dependency case. While an Orange County Senior Deputy Public Defender Sean Hennessey spent two (2) years handling the most serious cases in the Dependency system including allegations of murdering a child, sexual molestation and serious physical abuse.
Sean Hennessey is well known as a tenacious advocate for any client he represents within the Dependency Courts. Sean Hennessey typically represents one of the parents whose children have been taken away or threatened to be taken away. Sean has had numerous successes convincing Social Services Departments from pursuing formal cases against his clients.
If you find yourself the subject of an investigation by a Department of Social Services, Child Protective Agency or other similar governmental agency you MUST call Sean HennesseyIMMEDIATELY. Do not attempt to speak with a social worker without a knowledgeable attorney present to protect your rights. Sean Hennessey will protect you and your family.
Below are a few notable Dependency Cases Sean Hennessey has handled:
1. FATHER ALLEGED TO HAVE MOLESTED DAUGHTER: FACTS: In Riverside County a child’s Mother made a report to a Riverside Social Worker that her ex-husband had molested their six (6) year old daughter. The Father had previously been awarded primary custody of his daughter. The Riverside Department of Social Services removed the child from the father’s care. Sean conducted an extensive investigation showing the Riverside Department of Social Services did virtually no investigation, the child was never molested and the mother had a financial interest in making up the allegations. The case proceeded to a Court Trial. During the trial the girl testified she was never molested and after Sean Hennessey cross-examined the Mother the Court ruled the mother manipulated the child and lied to the Department of Social Services as well as the Riverside Police Department. The Judge dismissed the case finding the Father did nothing wrong.
The mother later made similar allegations in Orange County. Sean provided the files from the Riverside County Department of Social Services to Orange County Department of Social Services. As a result the Orange County Department of Social Services refused to pursue the case. Sean Hennessey then filed for a Restraining Order prohibiting the Mother from having any further contact with her daughter or the child’s Father. RESULT: The Court found the numerous false allegations of abuse made by the Mother against the Father which resulted in the child being repeatedly questioned by Social Workers, police officers and a Judge amounted to emotional abuse of the child by the Mother and therefore the Court issued a Restraining Order prohibiting the Mother from having any contact with her daughter or ex-husband. Full custody of the child was awarded to the Father.
2. PARENT’S CHARGED WITH SHAKING THEIR BABY AND CAUSING HEAD INJURIES. Sean conducted an extensive investigation and consulted with one of the leading brain surgeon’s in the country who stated the child showed no evidence of “shaken baby syndrome’ and instead had a very common condition for baby’s with large heads (hydrocephalus). RESULT: The Orange County Department of Social Services DISMISSEDthe allegations the child was the victim of “shaken baby syndrome” following information provided by the expert retained by Sean.
3. PARENTS CHARGED WITH THE DEATH OF THEIR INFANT SON:Sean conducted an extensive investigation and consulted with numerous experts into the cause of the child’s death. The experts concluded the child died of “crib death” or “sudden infant death syndrome”. RESULT: The case was DISMISSEDby Orange County Social Services.