When a minor becomes a ward of the court, it means that the court takes the minor's control and responsibility. According to the California Welfare and Institutions Code Sec 725(b), if a minor violates any law other than curfew, the court may adjudge and order the minor to become a ward of court. As a ward of the court, parents will have limited control over the minor. The court may even take the minor from the custody of the parents under certain circumstances. Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can help you know your legal options if the juvenile court has declared your child a ward of court.

Finding a Wardship

As the court finds a wardship, it considers several factors like the child's age, the seriousness of the offense the minor has committed, and the circumstances surrounding the crime. The court will also consider the child's delinquent history, and the wardship may last until the court orders otherwise. The child may also remain a ward of the court for a certain probation period.

As a ward of the court, the minor may be subject to supervised or unsupervised probation. If the court places the juvenile on unsupervised probation, the child will not be under the probation officer's watch. However, the court will put in place some appropriate and reasonable probation requirements for the juvenile.

However, the majority of juvenile offenses call for supervised probation or visitations. The court's ward will be under supervised probation if they commit any crime listed under the California Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) 707(b). The ward will also be under supervised probation for a burglary offense. The offense of possessing controlled substances like peyote, cocaine, opiates, and hallucinogens will call for supervised probation for the minor.

If the juvenile is a non-resident, the court may have the youth go back to their parents' custody instead of keeping them in a foreign country. However, the court will only make this order if it is for the juvenile's best interest. 

Requirements of Probation

When the ward of the court is on probation, the court may impose specific requirements of probation. When the court sets probation conditions, it ensures that the minor's offense is related to the conditions. The requirements of probation should also prohibit conduct that could encourage future criminal involvement. Some of the requirements of probation that a ward of the court would have to adhere to include:

  • Attending schools and not violating truancy laws in California
  • Honoring the conditions or provisions of curfew
  • Adhering to the set driving restrictions
  • Avoid associating with certain people
  • Refrain from engaging in gang-related activities
  • Wear a monitoring device
  • The court may also require the ward of court together with their family to take part in a counseling program

The California truancy laws require all children or minors to attend schools. The truancy laws apply to children between the ages of 6 and 18 years. All children are subject to compulsory education within their district, irrespective of whether a child is in high, middle, or elementary school. A ward could be labeled a truant if they are absent for a total of three days within a school year. The ward could also be truant if they are tardy three times in a year. If a child is absent three times for more than thirty minutes, the child may be a truant under the law. If a child misses more than 10% of the school year, the child is chronically truant under California law.

However, there are some excuses for truancy. For instance, the ward could be excused from attending school if:

  • The ward is unwell or sick.
  • The local health officers have issued a quarantine.
  • The ward has medical, vision, dental, or chiropractic treatment.
  • The ward needs time to attend an immediate family member's funeral service.
  • The ward is the custodial parent of another minor who is unwell or has a medical appointment.
  • The ward needs to spend some time with a family member who is engaged in active military duty.
  • The ward missed school due to some justifiable medical reasons that the school had approved.
  • The ward needed to attend their naturalization program for them to become citizens of the United States
  • For jury duty
  • To serve or take part in the precinct board during an election.

As long as there is ample evidence that the ward's absence from school was allowable, the ward will not be labeled a truant.

Placing the Juvenile Away From Home

When a minor becomes a court ward, the court might decide to put the child in another suitable placement, away from home. The court will take the minor away from home if it is evident that the home probation has failed. The court will also take the child away from home if it is evident that it is for the minor's best interests to be away from their parents. Some of the placement options that a probation officer may have are:

  • A foster home
  • A private institution
  • A relative's home
  • A public agency

Foster Care Placement

Foster care placement entails placing a ward of court in an unlocked facility outside their home. Placing a juvenile in a foster home may involve having them live with extended family members or relatives. The court may also have the youth live with approved non-relatives. The court may place the minor in an approved resource family or a foster home. The court may also place the minor in a licensed community care facility. Other placement options for juveniles include short-term residential therapeutic programs and group homes.

When a minor becomes the court's ward, the juvenile court will have the liberty to make crucial decisions regarding the minor's custody. The juvenile court will decide the supervision, care, maintenance, conduct, and minor support. The court will also make crucial decisions regarding the medical treatment of the minor. Before removing a minor from their parents' home and placing them in a foster home, the court will have to confirm various factors:

  • The minor's parents do not provide the right guidance, education, and training for the minor.
  • The minor is a chronic truant that need further monitoring.
  • The juvenile has been on probation before at their parent's home but failed to show improvement.
  • The best interest of the minor is to remove them from the physical custody of their parents.

If the court requires a minor to move from their parents, the probation department recommends an alternative place for the minor to stay. The probation officer will consider the child's and the family's recommendation while choosing the right place for the child to stay. The probation agency in a county is responsible for selecting the best place for the court's ward to stay.

When choosing a minor placement, the probation department has to ensure that they place the minor in a place that has a family setting or feels like home. The placement should meet the needs of the minor and should be least restrictive. The probation officer should choose a placement that is close to the child's parents.

When choosing a minor placement, the juvenile court holds a hearing to determine a suitable placement for the minor. During the hearing, the judge considers the results of the minor's social study conducted by the responsible probation officer. The evidence that the court considers include the victim impact statement.

The minor and their parents may also present any material and relevant evidence during the hearing. The probation officer makes a recommendation regarding the placement of the child. However, the court may reject the probation officer's recommendation. In this case, the court will consider alternative placement options for the minor.

Other Placement Options for a Ward of Court

Other placement in a foster home, the court may place a minor with extended family members. Placement with other relatives is preferred over the placement of the minor in other facilities. If the court places a minor with a relative, the court might order the relative to act as the minor's legal guardian. Therefore, the relative will be responsible for making all decisions that require legal consent. These decisions include the minor's education and medical care.

The placement in a foster home will be the next option if it is impossible to place the child in a relative's home. The court may place the minor in a foster family home, group care placement, foster agency, therapeutic foster care home, or certified treatment home.

Placement in treatment centers and group care homes involves placing the court's ward in a community treatment center or a group home. The court may also place the juvenile in an out-of-state treatment program.

In most cases, the juvenile court aims to rehabilitate the minor and then return them to their home. When determining how long a minor should stay at a placement facility, the court will consider various factors:

  • The minor's needs and the needs of their family
  • Whether a juvenile will pose a risk to the community
  • If the juvenile has completed the treatment programs successfully

After every six months, the juvenile court should hold a placement review hearing. During the placement, the court should hold a permanency planning hearing after every 12 months. If the minor is living with the parents, they will also participate in the permanent planning hearing.

The Ward of Court's Rights

Even when a juvenile is on probation, they are entitled to certain rights under California law. The juvenile court will impose probation requirements on the minor. However, all the conditions of probation must be reasonable. The conditions should also aim at reforming and rehabilitating the ward of court. Any requirement of probation that the court imposes should:

  • Be related to the offense that the minor has committed
  • Relate to conduct that is not criminal
  • Forbid or ban actions or conduct that could lead to future criminal activity

Other rights that the ward of court enjoys are:

  • Family visitation – When a minor is in a placement away from their family, they are entitled to visitation by their family members
  • Access to computer and internet - Minors have a right to computer and internet access while in a placement away from home
  • Gender identity – When placing children in an external facility, the probation officer should place a minor based on their gender identity. This is regardless of the minor's sex and gender outlined in the child welfare records.

Confinement of a Ward of Court

If the minor performs poorly in probation placement, the court might recommend placement in a juvenile hall, camp, ranch, forest ranch, or a secure juvenile home. Placement in these facilities is physical confinement. Placement in the outlined facilities is different from probation placement.

When the court orders the confinement of a minor, the objective is not to punish the minor. The court orders confinement of the minor to help instill a sense of responsibility in the child. Confinement is mandatory if a child commits a violent felony that involves the use of a firearm. The court may place the child in an alternative facility if the minor has a severe mental condition or disorder. In most cases, the court places juvenile offenders in facilities within their home counties. The court puts children with cognitive, alcohol, and drug problems in private institutions.

The length of minors' commitment to a juvenile facility will depend on the type of offense the minor commits. The juvenile court may commit the juvenile for an equal duration to that allowed by the court for adult offenders who commit the same crime.

The Division of Juvenile Justice

The Division of Juvenile Justice, commonly abbreviated as DJJ, handles minors who have committed violent or serious felonies. When placing the ward with the DJJ, the court must consider the public's protection and safety. The court will also consider the best interest of the juvenile.

For a juvenile's commitment to the DJJ, there should be ample evidence indicating that the placement will have a probable benefit to the youth. It should also be evident that less restrictive alternatives are ineffective in rehabilitating the child.

The court can only send a minor a DJJ correctional facility if the child is a court ward. The court may also refer a minor to the DJJ if they have committed a recent offense listed in the WIC. The court may also direct a minor to DJJ if they have committed a recent sex offense. Youths sent to the DJJ often face severe and prolonged commitments. When assigning juveniles to lock down institutions, the court considers several factors including the:

  • Juvenile's age
  • The maturity level
  • The education needs
  • The individual needs and risks

Payment of Fines, Fees, and Restitution

The court may impose a hefty fine on the ward. In some instances, the penalty may be as high as that charged for adult crimes. The court must determine whether the minor can pay the imposed fine. The fine will be in addition to the restitution paid by the minor to the victim.

Restitution is a payment that the ward makes to a victim to compensate them for the economic loss suffered due to the minor's actions. If the actual victim is not alive, a victim could be the victim's surviving family members. It could also include a government agency tasked with the repair and restoration of the damaged property.

The ward may have to pay restitution to the victim for:

  • The damaged or the stolen property
  • The medical costs incurred by the victim in seeking treatment for the injuries sustained.
  • Mental health services if the victim suffered mental damage.
  • Lost wages by the victim or by the victim's parents as a result of the injuries

Irrespective of the amount of restitution to be paid, the ward has a right to a restitution hearing. The amount of restitution that the ward has to pay will depend on the seriousness of the offense. If the ward is guilty of a felony offense, the restitution amount will range between $100 and $1,000. If the ward is guilty of a misdemeanor offense, the restitution amount does not exceed $100.

The Ward's Parents Financial Responsibility

When the court imposes fines, fees, and restitution on a ward, the ward might not have the financial capability to pay. Therefore, the ward's parents will be liable for the payment of the fines and the restitution. However, when imposing the fines and the restitution, the juvenile court will consider the ward's parents' financial capability.

If the parent or the guardian seeks to evade the payment of fines and restitution, they will have a burden to prove that:

  • They cannot pay
  • They did not get a notice of the fines and restitution payment before the court sustains a juvenile petition.
  • They were not present during the hearings and proceedings regarding the restitution, fees, and fines.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Attorney Near Me

If your child has committed an offense, it is crucial to seek the assistance of an attorney. An attorney will negotiate with the juvenile court to prevent a sustained petition and declaration of the minor as a ward of court. Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can help you create a convincing defense. Contact us at 424-333-0943 and speak to one of our attorneys.