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RI’s Family Court System. An outline of it’s roles and structure in matters of Child protective services. The Courthouses.

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ri s family court system

RI’s Family Court System

An outline of it’s roles and structure in matters of Child protective services

the courthouses
The Courthouses
  • Matters pertaining to Child Protective Services must be adjudicated before an appointed Justice during hearings in Family Court, of which there are four located in Judicial complexes throughout the state.
    • Garrahy Complex in Providence
    • McGrath Complex in Wakefield
    • Murray Complex in Newport
    • Noel Complex in Warwick
  • Of those four Judicial complexes, I have attended family court hearings at both McGrath in Wakefield, and Noel in Warwick. I also spent some time shadowing an attorney at the CASA Offices located at the Noel Judicial Complex in Warwick.

There are many different types of hearings and petitions to be addressed in court. To begin I will outline these petitions.

petitions and hearings
Petitions and Hearings
  • Arraignment Hearing
    • The parent is formally charged with abuse or neglect.
    • This involves a Commitment Petition, in which the parent can admit to abuse/neglect, or claim dependency, which states that they are unable, through no fault of their own (mental illness, drug addiction etc.) to care for the child without assistance from the state.
  • Permanency Hearings
    • Determines the child’s permanent placement if re-unification is not achieved at the end of 6 months to a year. This may include the following Petitions
      • Termination of Parental Rights or TPR (may be voluntary or involuntary)
      • Direct Consent Adoption
        • Birth Parent voluntarily agrees to release the child for adoption and relinquishes all parental rights.
      • Open Adoption
        • Birth Parent has the right to maintain contact with child and adoptive parents
      • Guardianship
        • Temporary placement caregivers can assume guardianship of the child without terminating parental rights
petitions and hearings1
Petitions and Hearings

Other hearings may be held in family court before the General Magistrate to evaluate progress on service plans, modify visitation scheduling, and set dates for continuances on hearings. There are many individuals involved in family court hearings. The following is an outline of individuals involved and their role in court.

justice of the family court judge or general magistrate
Justice of the Family Court (Judge or General Magistrate)

The State

Seeks to represent and petition for the well being of troubled children and families

  • DCYF Legal Counsel
    • Attorney to represent DCYF
      • (One per regional office)
  • DCYF Social Caseworker
    • Assigned to individual cases
  • Child Protective Investigator
    • First respondent to investigate allegations of abuse/neglect
  • Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)
    • Child advocate in court

The Defense

Interest of the defense is in regaining custody of children who have been removed from home and placed in temporary care

  • Parents
    • Or other caretakers named on the petition
  • Parent’s Attorney
    • Public Defender
      • (RI Legal Services)
    • Private Attorney
others p resent in court
Others Present in Court
  • Witnesses
    • Can testify to first hand information about the case
  • Foster Parents
    • May attend hearings, but cannot be parties to the case
  • Sheriff
    • Present in court to maintain order, escort prisoners, etc.
  • Clerk
    • Assists the judge with court files, scheduling further hearings etc.
  • Stenographer
    • Takes a written record of what is said in court
  • Court Aide
    • Gathers parties for matters on the court calendar
dcyf in family court
DCYF in Family Court

Primary responsibility of DCYF:

To re-unify children who have been removed from the home and are currently in placement.

DCYF Social Caseworkers are responsible for the efficacy of service plans which they have developed for families to make the changes necessary for re-unification.


By working together with external care providers to facilitate substance rehabilitation, behavioral counseling, mental health treatment etc.

role of a child protective investigator cpi
Role of a Child Protective Investigator (CPI)

First respondent to reports of child abuse/neglect

May remove the child from the location if they find evidence to indicate that the abuse or neglect is more probably than not.

In Court

May testify in court using evidence of abuse or neglect against parents facing a commitment petition

During my time shadowing a CASA attorney, I was able to witness a CPI testimonial in court against a mother indicated for neglect against a 6 month old baby girl

court appointed special advocates casa
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Began as a volunteer based program which now employs a full time staff of attorney guardians and social workers.

Responsibility of CASA:

To provide effective advocacy to RI’s most vulnerable children to ensure they don’t “fall through the cracks” of the system put in place to help them.


Reviewing records, interviewing those involved, maintaining contact the child and any individuals involved in planning for the child, appearing at scheduled court hearings, and submitting reports to the court which summarize relevant information and make specific recommendations for the child’s best interest.

casa attorney is the role for me
CASA Attorney is the Role for Me

This career description is of most interest to me because unlike DCYF’s responsibility to work towards reunification with the parents, CASA has the responsibility of advocating what is in the best interest of the child particularly when reunification with parents may not necessarily be.

I identify the objectives of this role as most closely resembling my personal and professional goals!