Child Protective Custody Law and Legal Definition

Child protective custody is used in the context of family law when authorities believe a child's health or welfare is in danger. A social worker or police officer can place a child into protective custody if he or she believes immediate action is needed to protect a child from abuse or neglect. Laws generally require a parent to receive written notice listing the date and time for a protective custody hearing which is typically required to be held within a short period, such as a few days, after a child has been placed into protective custody.

A child taken into protective custody will often be placed into an emergency shelter, a licensed foster home or with a suitable relative. In determining a relative’s suitability, some of the factors considered include the condition of the relative’s home, criminal background, history of abuse or neglect, substance abuse history, ability and willingness to protect the child from the parent (or guardian) and cooperation with the case plan developed by the social worker and the family.

If the judge decides that your child should remain in protective custody, the judge will typically issue a protective custody order that is in force for a temporary period. If the problems are fixed during this period, social services may return the child to the parent's custody. If it is necessary to keep custody of the child for more than the temporary period, then social services will petition for a hearing in court. During this time, social services will continue to work with the parent to solve the problems that caused the abuse or neglect. The child will live with a foster family or perhaps with a suitable relative, or in some cases with the parent.

At a judicial review, the judge may order on of the following:

  • that your child be returned to you,
  • that you and the caseworker continue to work on reunification, or
  • that social services agency stop its reunification efforts and make permanent plans for the child's custody.

Laws governing protective custody vary by locality, so local laws should be consulted for applicable requirements in your area.