The following is a list of terms commonly found in connection with proceedinsg in Juvenile Court:

SOURCE: Dr. Tom O’Connor
Program Manager of Criminal Justice and Homeland Security,
Austin Peay State University at Ft. Campbell, KY

ABANDONMENT-The most common legal grounds for termination of parental rights, also a form of child abuse in most states. Sporadic visits, a few phone calls, or birthday cards are not sufficient to maintain parental rights. Fathers who manifest indifference toward a pregnant mother are also viewed as abandoning the child when it is born.

ABUSE–Term for acts or omissions by a legal caretaker. Encompasses a broad range of acts, and usually requires proof of intent.

ADJUDICATION–The phase of a delinquency hearing similar to a "trial" in adult criminal court, except that juveniles have no right to a jury trial, a public trial, or bail.  ROR, or Release on Recognizance, is never used in juvenile systems.

ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURE–Any of the processes involving enforcement of care, custody, or support orders by an executive agency rather than by courts or judges.

ADOPTION–A legal relationship between two people not biologically related, usually terminating the rights of biological parents, and usually with a trial "live-in" period. Once an adoption is finalized, the records are sealed and only the most compelling interests will enable disclosure of documents.

ADOPTION AND SAFE FAMILIES ACT of 1997–Moves children more quickly into permanent, adoptive placements, rather than letting them languish in foster homes.

BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD RULE–Legal doctrine establishing court as determiner of best environment for raising child. An alternative to the Parens Patriae Doctrine.

BREED v. JONES (1975)–Case allowing second prosecution in adult court for conviction in juvenile court, based on idea that first conviction was a "civil" matter, thus not protected by the 5th Amendment.

CASE LAW–Law established by the history of judicial decisions in cases decided by judges, as opposed to common law which is developed from the history of judicial decisions and social customs.

CHILD PROTECTION ACTION–The filing of legal papers by a child welfare agency when its investigation has turned up evidence of child abuse. This is a civil, rather than criminal, charge designed to take preventive action (like appointment of a Guardian ad litem) for at-risk children before abuse occurs.

CHILD SUPPORT–Legislated via 42 U.S.C. Sections 651-669, or otherwise known as Title IV-D, Title IV-A, Title IV-E, or Non IV-D which leaves most details up to the states, but mandates certain things states must do. "Four dee" agencies are the state institutions responsible for enforcing child support obligations. To continue to receive federal funds. states must process at least 50% of its paternity cases.

CHILD VICTIMS’ AND CHILD WITNESS’ RIGHTS–A 1990 federal law allowing courts to take extraordinary steps in protecting the emotional health of any child called to testify in a courtroom.

CHINS (CHild In Need of Supervision)–Term applied to status offenders adjudicated in juvenile court.

CIVIL PROTECTION ORDER–A form of protective custody in which a child welfare or police agency order an adult suspected of abuse to leave the home.

CUSTODIAL CONFINEMENT–Court order for placement in a secure facility, separate from adults, for the rehabilitation of a juvenile delinquent.

DELINQUENCY PROCEEDING–Court action to officially declare someone a juvenile delinquent. A "delinquent" is defined as under the age of majority who has been convicted in juvenile court of something that would be classified as a crime in adult court.

DEPENDENT–Anyone under the care of someone else. A child ceases to be a dependent when they reach the age of emancipation which varies by state law, and even then, some states allow for continued treatment as a dependent.

DeSHANEY v. WINNEBAGO COUNTY (1989)–Case limiting extent by which government exercises parens patriae power.

DISPOSITION–Phase of delinquency proceeding similar to "sentencing" phase of adult trial. The judge must consider alternative, innovative, and individualized sentences rather than imposing standard sentences.

DIVERSION–An alternative to trial decided upon at intake to refer the child to counseling or other social services; applicable to about 50% of all cases.

EMANCIPATION–Independence of a minor from his or her parents before reaching age of majority (18).

EQUAL PROTECTION–14th Amendment clause requiring government to treat similarly situated people the same or have good reason for treating them differently. Compelling reasons are considered to exist for treating children differently.

FAMILY IMMUNITY DOCTRINE–Legal doctrine preventing unemancipated children from suing their parents.

FAMILY PURPOSE DOCTRINE–Legal doctrine holding parents liable for injuries caused by a child’s negligent driving or other actions.

FOSTER CARE–Temporary care funded via Federal-State pass-through and arranged by a child welfare agency in order to allow receipt of adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical treatment for anyone raising a child that is not their own.

GUARDIAN AD LITEM–Phrase meaning "For the Proceeding" referring to adults who look after the welfare of a child and represent their legal interests; usually volunteers who are also officers of the court. If the GAL is not an attorney, they must hire one for the child, but some states are starting to allow GALs to do the actual legal work. GALs are also responsible for medical care of the child.

GUARDIANSHIP–Court order giving an individual or organization legal authority over a child. A guardian of the person is usually an individual and the child is called a ward. A guardian of the estate is usually an organization, like a bank, which manages the property and assets of a child’s inheritance. Guardians are usually compensated for their services.

ILLEGITIMACY–Being born to unmarried parents. The law assumes legitimacy via a married mother’s husband, whether or not this is the true father. Illegitimacy status limits inheritance rights.

IN LOCO PARENTIS–Teachers, administrators, and babysitters who are viewed as having some temporary parental rights & obligations.

IN RE GAULT (1967)–Case that determined the Constitution requires a separate juvenile justice system with certain standard procedures and protections, but still not as many as in adult systems.

INTAKE–Procedure prior to preliminary hearing in which a group of people (intake officer, police, probation, social worker, parent and child) talk and decide whether to handle the case formally or informally.

JUDGMENT–Any official decision or finding of a judge or administrative agency hearing officer upon the respective rights and claims of parties to an action; also known as a decree or order.

KENT v. U.S. (1966)–Case requiring a special hearing before any transfers to adult court.

MATERNAL PREFERENCE RULE–Legal doctrine granting mothers custodial preference after a divorce.

NEGLECT–Parental failure to provide a child with basic necessities when able to do so. Encompasses a variety of forms of abuse that do not require the element of intent.

PARENS PATRIAE–Legal doctrine establishing "parental" role of state over welfare of its citizens, especially its children. A 19th century idea first articulated in Prince v. Massachusetts (1944).

PAROLE–Release of a juvenile delinquent from custodial confinement prior to expiration of sentence; sometimes called aftercare.

PATERNITY–Result of lawsuit forcing a reluctant man to assume obligations of fatherhood. Blood and DNA tests showing a 98 or 99 percent likelihood are the standard. State laws vary widely in terms of statutes of limitations and when paternity actions will not be allowed (estoppel).

PLEADING–In juvenile court, a plea of "not guilty" will move the case to adjudication, and a plea of "guilty" or "nolo contendere" will result in waiver of the right to trial. State procedures vary widely in how intelligent and voluntary pleas are accepted.

PRELIMINARY HEARING–The bringing of a juvenile before a magistrate or judge in which charges are formally presented. Similar to an arraignment in adult court, and also called "advisory hearings" or "initial appearances" in some state juvenile justice systems.

PREVENTIVE DETENTION–Keeping a juvenile in custody or under a different living arrangement until the time when an adjudication can take place. Upheld in Schall v. Martin (1984), but the right to speedy trial requires the dropping of charges if an unreasonable amount of time is spent in preventive detention.

PROBATION–A period of time, not to exceed two years, in which an adjudicated delinquent is released back into society and supervised as to their conformity to certain conditions. Probation orders impose a wide variety of conditions. Unlike adults, juveniles cannot reject probation and request incarceration.

PROTECTIVE CUSTODY–Emergency, temporary custody by a child welfare agency, police agency, or hospital for reasons of immanent danger to the child. A hearing must be held for the benefit of the parents within a few days.

PSYCHOLOGICAL PARENT DOCTRINE–Legal doctrine granting custody to the parent whom the child feels the greatest emotional attachment to.

RESTITUTION–A disposition requiring a defendant to pay damages to a victim. The law prohibits making restitution a condition of receiving probation. Poor families cannot be deprived of probation simply because they are too poor to afford restitution. Some states do not allow families to pay restitution.

RULE OF SIXTEEN–Federal and state laws that prohibit anyone under age 16 from employment.

SEXUAL EXPLOITATION ACT of 1977–Legislation prohibiting production, transportation, sale, or possession of child pornography, including via computer modem. Penalties of life imprisonment in cases of selling or buying.

STANFORD v. KENTUCKY (1989)–Case in which it was determined constitutional to execute juveniles between the ages of 16-18, but unconstitutional if they committed crimes while under age 16. Won by a narrow majority, as in the 1988 case of Thompson v. Oklahoma which relied upon "standards of decency".

STATUS OFFENSE–An activity illegal when engaged in by a minor, but not when done by an adult. Examples include truancy, curfew, running away, or habitually disobeying parents.

STEPPARENT–A spouse of a biological parent who has no legal rights or duties to the child other than those which have been voluntarily accepted.

SURROGATE PARENT–A parent who provided an egg, sperm, or uterus with an intent of giving the child up for adoption to specific parties.

TENDER YEARS DOCTRINE–Legal doctrine that unless the mother is "unfit", very young children should be placed in custody with their mother following a divorce.

TERMINATION HEARINGS–Process for legally severing the parent-child relationship. Initiated by the filing of a petition in family court, and almost always brought forth by a child welfare agency. Requires a finding of "unfitness" and a determination of the best interests of the child.

UNFIT PARENT–A temporary or permanent termination of parental rights in the best interest of the child usually for reasons of abandonment, abuse, or neglect, but also including mental illness, addiction, or criminal record. Poverty alone and character flaws are prohibited by law from being indicators of "unfitness".

WAIVERS OF JURISDICTION–A court action "certifying" the youth as eligible for trial as an adult because it appears rehabilitation is unlikely or the crime was particularly atrocious.