The child dependency system in Pennsylvania is in place to ensure that all of the children of the Commonwealth receive proper protection and care. Sometimes, this means that a state agency may become involved in a family's life to ensure that any minor children are well cared for and safe. Often, the court becomes involved to oversee the dependency process and to decide who will care for a dependent child.
There are 10 different categories that a child can fit into under the dependency system. These categories apply to a child who:
1. Does not have proper parental care required by law;
2. Has been placed for adoption illegally;
3. Has been abandoned;
4. Has no parent or guardian;
5. Is habitually absent from school;
6. Has consistently committed disobedient acts;
7. Is under the age of 10 and has committed a crime;
8. Has been found dependent previously and is under court supervision;
9. Has been referred to the court and has committed consistent disobedient acts; or
10. Is born to a parent who previously had parental rights terminated with respect to a different child.
Once a child is found to be dependent by the court, the court becomes the legal supervisor for the child. Sometimes, a dependent child may remain at home in the care of his or her parents, but under supervision of the court and the state agency. On the other end of the spectrum, a child can be removed from the home and placed in a foster home or a shelter care facility.
The goal for the court is always to make the family unit whole. The court will schedule reviews, and the frequency of these reviews usually depends on the placement of the child. Each family has a plan to follow so that, when completed, the court can relinquish supervision back to the parents. This plan could include classes, therapy, and evaluations. If there is no chance that the family unit can be preserved or if it would be unsafe to return the child to the natural parents, then depending on the age of the child a termination of parental rights proceeding may be initiated by the state so that the child can be placed for adoption with another family. For older children who are found dependent and are unlikely to be returned to the natural parents, there are placements that teach these children life skills such as writing checks, paying bills, cooking, cleaning, etc. When a child in this type of placement turns 18, they will have the necessary life skills to function as an adult in society.