In California, a minor is declared a ward of the court when the juvenile court takes over them. If your child commits a crime, the juvenile court may order the child to be placed in wardship. When your child is a ward of the court, you will have restricted control over them. Under certain circumstances, the judge could order your child to be taken from your home and be placed in another.

If your child faces criminal charges in juvenile court, it is crucial to seek competent legal guidance. At the Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we will guide your child through the case to ensure they are not declared a ward of the court. We serve clients facing criminal charges in Orange County, CA, to achieve the best outcome in your case.

Overview of Wardship for Juvenile Delinquents in California

When minors commit crimes, they are tried in juvenile court. The juvenile justice system handles criminals differently from adult courts. Children who are found guilty of committing crimes are sentenced to probation or other forms of rehabilitation measures such as:

  • Home confinement or house arrest. When a minor is sentenced to home confinement, they may be required to wear an electronic monitor. 

  • Placement in juvenile hall. The judge could send a minor to a juvenile detention facility for a short-term stay.

  • Adult jail. When a juvenile commits a serious crime, they could be charged as adults and sent to adult jail.

In California, a child becomes a ward of the court when the juvenile court takes responsibility for the control and treatment of the minor. The ward of the court could have a court-appointed guardian. However, the guardian will not be responsible for their expenses and debts. Even though your child can have a guardian, having a legal guardian does not always mean that a minor is in Wardship. A legal guardian could be appointed with consent from the minor’s parents.

If your child is a ward of the court and the court appoints a legal guardian, you will lose all your rights over the child. When finding a Wardship for a juvenile delinquent, the court must consider:

  1. The minor’s age. Your child’s age plays a significant role in determining Wardship. In California, minors are viewed to lack the full capacity to make the right decisions. Therefore, for younger offenders, the juvenile court may impose less stringent measures of rehabilitation.

  2. The severity of the minor’s crimes is critical. The juvenile system deals with numerous offenses committed by minors, and they could range from violation of curfew to more severe crimes like murder or manslaughter. If your child is found committing a serious offense or is a danger to themselves or other people, the court may decide to place them in a more restricted Wardship placement.

  3. The minor’s criminal history. Like adult criminals, minors can be repeat offenders. If a minor has been in the juvenile court before violating the law, the court may take a different approach on Wardship. The juvenile system is aimed at rehabilitating minors and avoiding future crimes. Therefore, if your child does not show signs of rehabilitation after the first offense, a second offense would cause them to be declared as ward of the court.

As a ward of the court, your child will be subjected to probation. Sometimes, the juvenile court allows the ward to be unsupervised during probation. When the child is placed on unsupervised probation, they are not under the probation department. However, the judge may impose conditions to be followed by the juvenile.

Most juvenile cases result in supervised probation. When a minor commits a severe offense listed under WIC 707(b), they will be placed on supervised probation. Sometimes, the juvenile court may order non-resident juvenile delinquents to be returned to the custody of their parents.

Requirements of Juvenile Probation

When your child is sentenced to probation in California, the court imposes terms and conditions that the minor should follow. The probation requirements are proportional to the offense committed by the child and other specific factors of the case. The following are some conditions that a ward of the court must follow:

  • Honoring the curfew provisions.

  • Avoid associations with specific people. If the juvenile court finds that a particular environment contributes to your child’s delinquency, they may be ordered to avoid them while on probation.

  • Refrain from gang activities while on probation. Enhancing gang activities while on juvenile probation is a violation of probation.

  • The minor may be required to wear an ankle monitor. When a juvenile is sentenced to probation and is allowed to go home, their movement could be restricted. An ankle monitor ensures that they only go out to the permitted areas such as school.

  • Mandatory counseling. When your child is on probation, the juvenile court requires both the minor and the family to enroll in a counseling program.

  • The minor should avoid violation of truancy laws. The truancy laws of California require all juveniles to attend school. All minors between the age of eight and eighteen years must be enrolled in an education program. As a ward of the court, your child is considered a truant when they fail to attend a school or are absent at least three days through the year.

Placing a Minor Away From Home

If your child is declared a ward of the court in California, the court may decide to place them in another area outside your home. The juvenile court can remove your child from home when they find that staying there would not be in their best interests. The first option of placing juvenile delinquents on probation is always at home. However, if the home probation fails, your child is taken away. Under court Wardship, the juvenile court takes primary responsibility for your child. The court can order your child to be removed from home under the following circumstances:

  • The child is a serious offender. If your child is unruly and is constantly committing crimes, the court may remove them from home and find a suitable alternative placement.

  • You have failed to provide proper care and education for the child. Sometimes, juvenile delinquency stems from the child’s home environment. If the court determines that you are not providing the proper care for the child and committing crimes, the juvenile will be declared a ward of the court and removed from the home.

  • Child welfare requires the child to be placed elsewhere. If the welfare department feels that the child is in danger at home or the environment is not conducive, they could recommend out-of-home placement.

The court cannot order rehabilitation services for a juvenile unless determined through the administrative process that the minor is eligible for the services. The court could direct any reasonable orders to the parents or guardians of the minor. As a parent of a juvenile delinquent, you will undergo different forms of evaluation, including financial evaluation, while attempting to obtain appropriate education that meets your child’s needs.

Some placement options available for a ward of the court may include:

Placement in Foster Care

Foster care is the placement of a minor in a less confined facility out of home, which may include placement with:

  1. The relatives of members of the extended family. Placement of minors with family or relatives is the most preferred option when the court decides to remove a child from their home. In this case, the court authorizes a suitable relative to take parental responsibility for your child. This may include authorization to make decisions on the minor’s education and health care.

  2. A foster family. If there is no suitable placement with a relative or family member. In that case, the court could order the child to be placed with a foster family or a licensed community care facility.

  3. A group home. When a minor is declared a ward of the court, they could be placed in a group home. This involves placement in a treatment center within the community or a certified group home.

Who Determines Where To Place A Ward Of The Court In California?

The probation department is tasked with determining suitable placement for a juvenile delinquent who is declared a ward of the court. A minor who needs placement out of home must be placed in a setting that is:

  • Least restrictive.

  • More like a family setting.

  • Best meets the minors needs.

The probation officer is required to make an effort and place a minor near their home. A placement hearing is held where the judge evaluates the minor’s social study done by the probation officer. The court allows you to provide relevant information about your child’s case during the placement hearing. If the court rejects one recommendation, they may consider other placement alternatives.

Primarily, the juvenile court aims at returning minors to their homes. The amount of time spent away from home by a juvenile delinquent is determined by the following factors:

  • The minor’s needs and those of the family are important. The juvenile court holds placement reviews for the juvenile offenders every six months. If you are continually involved with your child, you will be involved in a permanency hearing.

  • Completion of treatment services. If the court finds that the minor has completed treatment and the desired goal was achieved, the minor could be taken out of foster care or other out-of-home placement arrangements.

  • The juvenile’s risk to the safety of other people. If your child is a threat to the community, they could remain longer in an out-of-home placement. This is the case, especially when the crime that landed them in juvenile court was violent.

The Ward of Court’s Rights

Even if your child is declared a ward of the court, they are entitled to some rights under the law. When the court imposes probation requirements, the conditions must be aimed at rehabilitation and not punishing the juvenile. Probation conditions should:

  • Relate to your child’s charges.

  • Prohibit actions that could hinder the rehabilitation of the juvenile delinquent.

  • The probation department should consider a child’s non-criminal conduct.

Some of the rights that a juvenile enjoys while in Wardship may include:

  1. Family Visitation. If your child is a ward of the court, and they are placed out of home, they have the right to visitation with family members. The juvenile court cannot delegate authority over the visitation in residential programs.

  2. Access to internet and computer services. While in an out-of-home placement setting, a minor has a right to access the internet and computer.

  3. Gender identity. During the placement of a juvenile away from home, the probation department needs to place them based on their preferred gender identity.

  4. Right to extracurricular activities. A juvenile adjudged a ward of the court in the juvenile court is entitled to participate in age-appropriate extracurricular activities, social activities, and enrichment. The justice system does not prevent or create a barrier in participation in these activities. The local entities ensure that the private sectors providing foster care for the wards have regulations consistent with this section. The caregivers at foster homes and managers at the juvenile facilities are expected to use parent standard reasoning in caring for the minors.

If your child is found guilty of committing a crime and is declared a ward fo the court, it is crucial to contact a defense attorney as soon as possible. Your child’s defense attorney will work to ensure that all your child’s rights are respected.

Placement of Wards with the Juvenile Justice

The DJJ is tasked with handling minors who face charges for committing serious crimes. In all their decisions, the judges in the juvenile court aimed to rehabilitate children to avoid criminal activity in the future. Therefore, when a ward of the court is placed with the Division of Juvenile Justice, the court considers the minor's best interest and the safety and protection of other people. 

  • Before your child is placed with the DJJ, there must be sufficient evidence to prove that the minor will benefit from the placement. Also, it should be clear that other forms of less restrictive rehabilitation were ineffective for the juvenile delinquent. Sometimes, the juvenile court sends wards to the DJJ if they are found guilty of a sex offense. When assigning a ward of the court to confinement, the court considers the child's maturity level, the age of a juvenile, and the education needs.

Commitment to the DJJ can be long and severe. All the youths in these facilities must attend school. If the minor complete high school, they are offered vocational training or college programs. Additionally, the DJJ youths may be assigned to individual programs that meet their specific needs. Some of these special programs may include:

  • Behavioral treatment programs.

  • Mental health treatment sessions.

  • Sex behavior treatment.

  • Anger management programs. 

In the juvenile justice system, the court considers each child and the factors of their case when determining rehabilitation. The court is more likely to place your child in a correctional facility if they committed a serious crime and are a threat to others. 

When the juvenile court decides to send a ward of the court to DJJ, they often set a maximum term of confinement. The amount of time to be served by the minor must be less than that served by an adult who commits a similar offense. A child sentenced for a non-WIC 707(b) offense must be discharged at 21 or after completing two years.

If your child’s needs are not met at the DJF, you can file a motion to modify the commitment. The juvenile court can change the terms of Wardship if there is satisfactory proof that a juvenile is not benefiting from the program. If your child faces charges in juvenile court, it is crucial to seek competent legal representation for them. A skilled criminal defense attorney will work to ensure your child does not end up in Juvenile justice custody.

Confinement For Wards of the Court

If your child does not perform well on probation, the judge may recommend placement in a more confined location such as a juvenile camp, the juvenile hall or a juvenile home. Placement in these facilities is different from placement in probation, and the court orders confinement of juvenile delinquents with the sole aim of rehabilitation.

If a child is found guilty of a serious offense such as murder, rape, manslaughter or other serious felonies, they could end up in confinement. However, if the minor has a severe mental illness or disorder, they could be placed in an alternative facility. Mostly, your child will be placed in a facility close to home. This will make the reunification process easier. The length of a child’s confinement depends significantly on the crime they committed. 

Juvenile confinement can be traumatizing and difficult for your child. Therefore, it is essential to have a knowledgeable criminal lawyer guiding them throughout the case. If the charges against a minor are reduced, they could avoid Wardship and juvenile confinement.

Payment of Fees, Fines, and Victim Restitution

The judge could impose hefty fines on your child, which could be similar to the fines imposed on adult criminals. Before setting the fine, the court considers whether or not the juvenile can pay the fine. Additionally, if your child was involved in a crime that caused injuries or losses to other people, the court may require them to compensate the victims for their losses. A ward may need to pay for:

  • Medical costs for victims seeking treatment for injuries resulting from the crime.

  • Lost wages for the victim or their parents resulting from the injuries.

  • Damaged or stolen property.

  • Counseling and other mental care services sought by the victim.

A court ward is entitled to a restitution hearing regardless of the amount reached by the court. If your child is found to have committed a serious crime, the restitution may be higher compared to juveniles who commit minor offenses.

Your Financial Responsibility When your Child is a Ward of the Court

Most children are solely dependent on their parents for financial support. Therefore, if they commit a crime and fines are imposed, the juvenile offender may lack the financial capacity. Parents of juveniles facing charges in juvenile court are always responsible for payment of restitution, fines, and court fees imposed on the minor. However, before the court imposes the penalties, they consider the parent’s ability to pay.

If you seek a reduction or to evade paying fines for your child in juvenile court, you must prove that:

  1. You lack the financial capacity to pay the fines.

  2. You were not notified of the fines before sustaining the petition.

  3. You were not present at the restitution proceedings. As a parent, you have a right to be involved in all proceedings when your child faces charges in the juvenile justice system. Therefore, if you are not present in the restitution proceedings, you can seek to evade liability for the payments.

Find an Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me

The juvenile justice system is often lenient in punishing juvenile offenders, and they do not impose harsh penalties on juvenile delinquents. However, there are situations where the court takes control over the juvenile delinquent by declaring them a ward of the court. Also, if the court finds that the home environment is not conducive for the juvenile to reform their character, they could be placed in other suitable locations such as foster care. Placement away from home can be challenging both for the minor and your family.

If your child is accused of a crime, it is vital to contact a knowledgeable attorney. Your child’s attorney will guide them to negotiate with the court to prevent them from being found guilty and avoid being placed as a ward of the court. If your child faces charges in Orange County, CA, we invite you to contact us at the Orange County Criminal Lawyer for legal guidance and representation in juvenile court. Call us today at 714-262-4833 and allow us to guide your child in this challenging situation.