Child Protection Hearings

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                                                         CUSTODIANS, AND CHILDREN




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This handbook will explain the court process and the people helping you with your case. Being involved in a child abuse and neglect case can be very confusing and stressful for a family and the children involved. Not knowing what to expect can make it even harder. This handbook will help you understand what will happen. Keep this handbook with you so you can write down the names of the people who will be helping you and the dates of meetings and court hearings. This handbook should not be viewed as legal advice and was created for informative purposes only.

Why Do You Have To Go To Court?

  • The purpose of Juvenile Court is to keep children safe and to help families create a safe home for their children.
  • The judge can require you and your family to get help.  Also, the judge can order that your child(ren) be temporarily placed in the custody of the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) or a family member or other significantly involved third party.  This means that, for the time being, DFCS is legally responsible for your child and with the approval of the Court, can make decisions about where your child should live and what you need to do to have your child returned to you.
  • The same problems that brought you to the Court could result in criminal charges against you, your partner, or someone else in your family.  In that case, you may have to go to another court and see another judge.  This handbook does not deal with criminal cases.  It is about proceedings (meetings and hearings) in Juvenile Court. 
What Happens After Your Child Is Removed From Your Home?

  • If your child is removed from you, you will be notified in writing and possibly by a case manager with the Department of Family and Children’s Services.  You may also receive a copy of the paperwork that has been filed with the Juvenile Court.  You can expect that the Department will file what is called a "deprivation petition" and it is a possibility that a Deputy Sheriff will bring this paperwork to you at your home or job location.  The petition is a document that is prepared after DFCS receives a report/referral about you and your child(ren).
  • The petition names you as the "respondent."  This is the term used by the Court for the parent or guardian in a child abuse or neglect case.
  • The petition lists one or more allegations, which are statements of what is believed to have happened, and reasons why your child needs to be in the State's custody or protection.
  • There will also be a summons attached which tells you the date, time and place of the hearing and tells you that you have a right to have an attorney represent you.  You may see the clerk at the window of Juvenile Court to inquire about an attorney and completing a financial affidavit if you cannot afford an attorney. You are entitled to an attorney at all stages of a deprivation proceeding.
  • If you do not understand the petition or any other paperwork, talk to someone so that they can explain to you what is happening. This is an issue that you can address with your attorney.



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The Judge: There is no jury for this type of court.  It is up to the judge to hear all the information and make decisions about what is needed to protect and provide for your child(ren).

The Attorney for the Parents, Guardian or Custodian: You may have an attorney appointed or hire your own.  Your attorney will make sure that you understand what to expect at hearings and will represent your rights and interests. You want to have regular contact with your attorney so that he/she can be well prepared to represent you in court.

The CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and the Attorney Guardian Ad Litem: The CASA is a specially trained person appointed by the court that volunteers his or her time to investigate the facts of a case, and makes recommendations to the court on what he/she believes is in the best interest of your child or children. An attorney Guardian Ad Litem is appointed to ensure that the child's or children's legal interests are protected.  The CASA and Guardian Ad Litem will talk and visit with many people, including the child(ren).  Both the CASA and Guardian Ad Litem usually remain on the case until a safe and permanent home is assured for the child(ren).

The DFCS Case Manager and DFCS Attorney (also known as the SAAG-Special Assistant Attorney General): Whether or not your child is removed from your home, you will be given the name and phone number of a case manager from DFCS.  The case manager will contact you to give you more information and ask you questions; is required to visit you and your child regularly, help you understand the issues that brought you to court, and help you work on your case plan, which lists the steps you need to take to have your child returned.  It is important to have a working relationship with the case manager on your case.  You do not have to wait for him/her to call you.  If you have questions or problems, you can make the phone call and leave a message.  The DFCS case manager will make a case plan for you.  Make sure you understand and follow the terms of the case plan.  An attorney (SAAG) for DFCS presents the case to the court for the case manager.

Parent Aide Workers and Wrap Around Workers: These are people that work as contract agents for DFCS.   They can assist you with certain services so that you can better address and meet your case plan goals.  It is a good idea to have a good working relationship with these individuals as they report their findings back to the case manager and the Juvenile court.

Court Employees: There will be one or more bailiffs and sheriff deputy’s in the court to make sure the courtroom is safe and business is done in an orderly manner.  The clerk of court makes sure that a record is kept of all information presented to the court.  You may also have the right to have an interpreter if you do not speak or understand English, or if you are deaf.



Contact Information for These Key People in your Case

Attorney for the Parents, Guardian or Custodian

DFCS Case Manager/Supervisor




Best time to call:




Best time to call:

Guardian ad Litem or the CASA

Wrap Around Worker

Name of Guardian ad Litem:

Name of CASA:

GAL office address:

GAL Phone:

Best time to call: 




Best time to call:



Court Hearings

After a petition is filed for abuse, neglect, or dependency, there are several different types of court hearings that may take place.  Some types of hearings are required by law at certain times.  Each court hearing and meeting has a different purpose.  They are all described here in this handbook, so that you know what to expect at each hearing or meeting, when and where it will be held, and why it is important for you to attend.  These descriptions are meant to give you an overview and do not contain all of the detailed requirements of the law.

At each hearing, all of the parties and their lawyers should be present (the DFCS attorney, the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) attorney, the parent(s) and the parent(s) attorney).  The judge, a court clerk, case managers, a CASA, and a law enforcement officer will also be present.  The child who is the subject of the case is considered a “party,” but the child may or may not be present depending on the child’s age, maturity level, and whether it is in the best interest of the child to attend.  Other persons who may be present include any witness that a party intends to call, foster parents, people from various agencies, and other people waiting for their case to be called in court.

Detention-72 Hour Hearing  ( a hearing to decide who will be responsible for caring for the child until the time of the adjudication hearing)

When a child is removed from his/her home, a detention hearing must occur within 72 hours after the removal.  At a detention hearing, the judge must make a determination as to whether the child should be returned home or remain placed outside of the home.  DFCS has the burden of proof at this hearing by the probable cause standard.  This is a lesser burden of proof and the court can receive hearsay evidence.  If the judge decides the child should not be returned home, the judge must decide whether the child’s current placement is satisfactory.  A detention hearing is not a formal trial, but parties can present evidence, testimony, and make recommendations to the judge.  Detention hearings are also a chance for parties to talk to each other and the judge about how they can help the family and the child.  In addition, the judge may consider setting appropriate times and circumstances for parents to visit their children if the children remain outside the home.

Adjudication Hearing  (a hearing where the judge hears about the facts stated in the petition and determines whether a child is abused, neglected, or dependent.)

The adjudication hearing is the part of the case where the judge must decide whether the allegations in the petition have been proven – whether the child is, in fact, an abused, neglected, or dependent child.  This hearing is required by law to be held within 10 days of the date of the filing of the petition unless the judge decides there is a good reason to delay it.  The adjudication is a formal trial where the parties present evidence, examine witnesses, and make arguments to the judge.  DFCS must prove the case by clear and convincing evidence.  Hearsay evidence is generally not allowed at this hearing.  If the judge decides that the statements in the petition have been proven, then the child will be adjudicated abused, neglected, and/or dependent.  If the judge decides that the statements have not been proven, the judge will dismiss the petition and the case will be over.  If the statements are proven, the judge will decide whether to proceed immediately to the disposition hearing or to set the disposition hearing for a later date.

A full adjudication hearing may not take place if the parties all come to an agreement about what the court should order.  If the parties come to an agreement, the judge does what is called a “consent order” which reflects the agreement of the parties, and there is no need for a trial.

Disposition Hearing  (a hearing where the judge considers a plan of care for the child including where the child should live, how to meet the child’s needs, and what the parents can do to improve the situation.)

The disposition hearing is the part of the case where the court decides what should happen to the child who has been adjudicated abused, neglected, or dependent.  This is not a formal trial, but parties do present information to the court about what needs to happen in order to achieve a safe, permanent home for the child within a reasonable period of time.  In making its decisions, the court must focus on the best interests of the child.  Part of determining the child’s best interest is deciding what the parent(s) would have to do or change in order to be able to properly care for the child.

In the disposition hearing, issues that may come up include placement of the child, with relatives or significant others, visitation with parents or siblings, medical care needed by the child or parents, and mental health or substance abuse evaluations needed by the child or the parents.  There will be discussions about how to address any and all of the circumstances that led to the removal of the child.  The court will also look at whether DFCS made reasonable efforts to prevent removal of the child or whether DFCS should not be expected to make such efforts because they would not accomplish anything.  All parties will make recommendations to the court about what should happen.

After the disposition hearing, parents have a clear idea of what the judge expects them to do in order for their child to be returned home.  In some cases, however, the judge may determine it is unlikely the child will be returned home and may instead focus on the best out-of-home-placement for the child and how to make sure the various needs of the child are met.

The Judge will also issue a scheduling order.  This order will set the dates for future hearings in the case for the next nine months.  Those hearings will include the three month court review, three month citizens’ panel review, the six month citizens’ panel review and the nine month annual permanency hearing.

Review Hearing (a hearing where the Judge determines whether the plan of care for the child is working, whether it should be changed and whether the parents are making necessary improvements)

Review hearings are just what they sound like – a chance for the court to review how the case is going.  The law requires that a review hearing be held within 90 days of the date of the disposition hearing.  After the first review hearing, review hearings must be held at least every six months.  Although there are circumstances under which the court may determine that review hearings may need to be held every three months.  In addition to the court hearings that are required by law, any party may ask the court to conduct a review hearing at any time if there is an issue he/she believes the court needs to hear about.

A review hearing is a lot like a disposition hearing.  It is not a formal trial and the court considers the same issue it considered at disposition.  In a review, the court must determine whether the plan that was made during disposition is moving along as it should, whether changes to that plan need to be made and whether there are any new issues to deal with.  The court will be presented with information regarding what the parent has been doing, how the child is doing and whether any member of the family has needs that need to be addressed.  The court will hear recommendations about what needs to happen next in order to get the child into a safe, permanent home within a reasonable period of time.

Citizens’ Panel Review (similar to the court review)

The Citizens’ Panel is made up of trained community volunteers who donate one day a month to review cases of children in foster care.  The panel meets the last week of the month on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  Panel reviews are held at three months, six months and then at least every six months after that until the child is in a permanent placement.  The panel may request the case be brought back to the panel more often as needed.  Panel reviews take place in the room next to the Juvenile court Room.  Please ask one of the clerks if you need assistance.

Panel reviews are less formal than a regular court hearing.  Parents, children, foster parents, CASA volunteers/staff, DFCS case managers, wrap around workers and attorneys are often present.  You will be asked to sign a form to show that you were present.  The panel begins by introducing themselves and then everyone present states their name and how they are involved with the case.  The DFCS case manager will give a brief history of the case including why the children were brought into foster care.  The panel members will go over the case plan step by step to review the progress or lack of progress by the parents.  Everyone present has an opportunity to speak to the panel.  Panel members then make recommendations to the Judge.  The Judge has the final authority in deprivation cases.

Permanency or Nonreunification Hearing (a hearing to decide on the best permanent plan of care for the child)

A permanency hearing is required within 12 months after a child has been removed from home.  This kind of hearing is also required within 30 days of a judge’s decision that efforts to reunify the family are not required or shall stop.

At this hearing, parties present information to the Judge so the Judge can develop a plan to achieve a safe, permanent home for the children within a reasonable period of time.  The Judge will decide whether the plan is to return the child home, to give a suitable person custody or guardianship of the child, to move toward termination of parental rights so the child can be adopted, or to keep more than one of these options open.  The Judge must enter an order as to the best plan of care for the child and may order DFCS to take specific steps to carry out the plan.  DFCS may ask the court to make a finding of nonreunification at this point.  If the Judge grants nonreunification, DFCS no longer provides services to the family to reunify them with the child.  A finding of nonreunification does not terminate parental rights.

Termination of Parental Rights Hearing (a hearing to decide to end a parent(s) rights to take care of their child)

The law allows certain people to ask the Judge to terminate parental rights when certain circumstances exist.  These circumstances are called “grounds.”  At a termination of parental rights hearing, which is a formal trial, the person requesting termination of parental rights (called the “petitioners”) must prove to the Judge that grounds exist for termination.  Grounds include failure to comply with a court ordered reunification case plan, abandonment, chronic drug or alcohol addiction, mental health concerns or continued deprivation.  The petitioner will attempt to do this by presenting evidence and arguments to the court and other parties have the opportunity to examine witnesses, present evidence, and make arguments.  If the Judge determines that grounds do not exist, the Judge will dismiss the case.  If the Judge determines that grounds do exist, the Judge must examine whether it is in the child’s best interest to terminate parental rights.

The “adjudication” phase of the case is when the court decides whether grounds exist.  The determination of whether it is in the child’s best interest to terminate is called the “disposition” phase of the case.  In some courtrooms, the hearing is clearly divided between the adjudication phase and the disposition phase and new evidence may be put on during the second phase of the case.  In other courtrooms, the two phases are not divided and the Judge simply moves from a determination of grounds directly to a determination of best interest, based on the evidence already presented in the adjudication phase of the case.  If the Judge decides it is not in the best interest of the child to terminate parental rights, the Judge can dismiss the case even if grounds for termination exist.  If the Judge finds it is in the best interest of the child to terminate (after finding that grounds exist), the Judge will order termination of parental rights.  The next issue the court will determine is where the child should be placed after termination.  The court will review whether DFCS has evaluated all potential relative placements made known to them and whether it is in the best interest of the child to be placed with a relative, a significantly involved other or with the Department for the purpose of adoption.

Post-Termination of Parental Rights Placement Court Review Hearing

This kind of hearing is required within six months of the date of termination of parental rights and at least every six months after that until the child is adopted.  This is not a formal trial, but parties will present evidence and make recommendations to the court.  The parent whose rights have been terminated does not participate in this hearing because after termination, the parent is no longer a party to the case.  The purpose of this hearing is to examine the plan for permanency and to assure appropriate efforts are being made to carry out the plan.



Juvenile Court Checklist
This chart may help you keep track of your court dates

Court Event


Date of Next Hearing or Event

Detention Hearing

Adjudication Hearing (10 days from filing of petition unless continued to expanded)

3 Month Review Hearing (within 90 days of Disposition)

3 Month Citizens’ Panel Review

6 Month Citizens’ Panel Review

Permanency Planning Hearing (within 9 months of Detention)

Nonreunification Hearing

Termination of Parental Rights Petition filed (if necessary)

Termination of Parental Rights Hearing (if necessary)




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  • Adjudication Hearing:  In child welfare proceedings, the trial stage at which the court determines whether allegations of dependency, abuse or neglect concerning a child are sustained by the evidence and, if so, are legally sufficient to support state intervention on behalf of the child; provides the basis for state intervention into a family, as opposed to the disposition hearing which concerns the nature of such intervention; in some states, adjudication hearings are referred to as "jurisdictional" or "fact-finding" hearings.
  • Adoptive Parent: The adult person with whom a relationship is legally established to a child not biologically related.  Under the adoptive relationship, the child becomes heir and is entitled to all other privileges belonging to a natural child of the adoptive parent.
  • Adoption Hearing: Judicial Proceeding in which relationship is legally established between adult individual(s) and a child not biologically related.
  • Case Flow Management: Administrative and judicial processes designed to reduce delays in litigation; processes which assist the court in monitoring child welfare agencies to make sure dependency cases are moved diligently and decisively toward completion.
  • Case Plan: Document given to parents with goals and steps to complete in order for their children to be returned to them.
  • Child Abuse: To hurt or injure a child by maltreatment.  As defined by statutes in the majority of states, generally limited to maltreatment that causes or threatens to cause lasting harm to a child.
  • Child Custody:  Legal authority to determine the care, supervision, and discipline of a child; when assigned to an individual or couple, includes physical care and supervision.  Includes guardianship of the person of a minor such as may be awarded by the probate court.
  • Child Neglect: To fail to give proper attention to a child; to deprive a child; to allow a lapse in care and supervision that causes or threatens to cause lasting harm to the child.
  • Citizens Panel Review (CPR): A panel of screened and trained volunteers preferably appointed by juvenile or family courts to: regularly review cases of children in substitute placement such as foster care; examine efforts to identify a permanent placement for each child; and proffer advisory recommendations to the court.
  • Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA): A specially screened and trained volunteer, appointed by the court, who conducts an independent investigation of child abuse, neglect, or other dependency matter, and submits a formal report proffering advisory recommendations as to the best interests of a child.  In some jurisdictions, volunteers without formal legal training, such as CASA's, are appointed to represent abused and neglected children, serving in the capacity of a Guardian Ad Litem.  See Guardian Ad Litem.
  • Dependent Child: A young person subject to the jurisdiction of the court because of child abuse, neglect or deprivation.
  • Direct Calendaring: An administrative scheduling system used by the courts in which child abuse and neglect cases involving a single family are assigned to a single judge or judicial officer at the time the case is first filed, and for the duration of government involvement with a specific family.  The initially-assigned judge conducts all subsequent hearings, conferences and tribal hearings.
  • Disposition Hearing: The stage of the juvenile court process in which, after finding that a child is within jurisdiction of the court, the court determines who shall have custody and control of the child; elicits judicial decision as to whether to continue out-of-home placement or to remove a child from home.
  • Diversion Programs: Community-based services designed to prevent the necessity of child abuse, neglect or other dependency matters coming before the court.
  • Formal Mediation: Structured negotiations involving parents, social service agencies, and independent, third-party representatives involved in reaching joint solutions in matters before the court.
  • Foster Care:  Temporary residential care provided to a minor child placed pursuant to neglect or dependency hearing; can include care by a non-biological foster family, group care, residential care, or institutional care.
  • Family Foster Care: A form of foster care involving placement of a child with a non-biological family that is approved and supervised by the state.
  • Guardian Ad Litem: 1. In certain dependency matters, a person with formal legal training appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of an allegedly abused or neglected child; differs from the legal advocate for the child who specifically represents the child's wishes before the court.  See legal advocate for the child.  2.  A recruited, screened and trained citizen volunteer without formal legal training, appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of an allegedly abused or neglected child.  See Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
  • Guardianship:  A legally established relationship between a child and adult who is appointed to protect the child's bet interests and to provide the child's care, welfare, education, discipline, maintenance and support.  Where guardianship is awarded to an individual or couple, it includes the right to physical possession of the child.  In many states, guardianship of this type is awarded by the probate court.  Therefore, appointing a guardian for a foster child may require the action of two courts; the court hearing the abuse or neglect (e.g., the juvenile or family court) and the probate court.
  • Judicial Officer:  Person who serves in an appointive capacity at the pleasure of an appointing judge, and whose decisions are subject to review by that judge; referred to in some jurisdictions as associate judges; magistrates; referees; special masters; hearing officers; commissioners
  • Judge:  One who conducts or presides over a court of justice and resolves controversies between parties.  In the foregoing text, the term also encompasses persons serving in an appointive capacity whose decisions are subject to review by a judge, including associate judges, magistrates; referees; special masters; hearing officers and commissioners.
  • Legal Advocate for the Child:  In certain dependency matters, a person with formal legal training appointed by a juvenile or family court to specifically represent the wishes of an allegedly abused or neglected child under the court's jurisdiction; differs from a Guardian Ad Litem appointed to represent the best interests of a child before the court.  See Guardian Ad Litem;
  • Long-term foster care:  Extended residential care provided to a minor child placed pursuant to neglect or dependency hearings; can include care by a non-biological foster family, group care, residential care, or institutional care.
  • Mediation:  Process by which a neutral mediator assists all of the parties in voluntarily reaching a consensual agreement about issues at hand; a process of facilitated communication between parties designed to resolve issues and agree upon a plan of action.
  • Motion: An application to a court made in reference to a pending action, addressed to a matter within the discretion of a judge.
  • Permanency planning hearing:  A special type of post-dispositional proceeding designed to reach a decision concerning the permanent placement of a child; the time of the hearing represents a deadline within which the final direction of a case is to be determined.
  • Petition/pleading:  A formal written request for a certain thing to be done.
  • Detention/72 Hour Hearing:  The first court hearing in a juvenile abuse or neglect case.  It can also be called a detention hearing, emergency removal hearing, or temporary custody hearing.  The hearing should occur either immediately after child is removed from the home on an emergency basis; may be preceded by an ex parte order directing placement of the child; in extreme emergency cases may constitute the first judicial review of a child placed without prior court approval.
  • Pre-trial Settlement Conference:  A meeting of attorneys and parties to a proceeding held for the purpose of reaching a negotiated settlement involving joint solutions.
  • Putative Father:  The alleged or supposed male parent; the person alleged to have fathered a child whose parentage is at issue.
  • Reasonable Efforts:  Public law 96-272, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 requires that "reasonable efforts" be made to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of a dependent, neglected, or abused child from the child's home and to reunify the family if the child is removed.  The reasonable efforts requirement of the federal law is designed to ensure that families are provided with services to prevent their disruption and to respond to the problems of unnecessary disruption of families and foster care drift.  To enforce this provision, the juvenile court must determine, in each case where federal reimbursement is sought, whether the agency has made the required reasonable efforts.  (42 U.S.C.  671(a)(15), 672(a)(1).)
  • Residential Care:  A form of foster care involving placement in group or congregate care.
  • Review Hearing:  Court proceedings which take place after disposition in which the court comprehensively reviews the status of a case, examines progress made by the parties since the conclusion of the disposition hearing, provides for correction and revision of the case plan, and makes sure that cases progress and children spend as short a time as possible in temporary placement.
  • Scheduling Order:  The Judge signs this order and it sets the dates for future hearings in a deprivation case for the next nine months.  Those hearings will include the three month court review, three month citizens’ panel review, the six month citizens’ panel review and the nine month annual permanency hearing.
  • Stipulation:  An agreement, admission, or conclusion made by parties in judicial proceedings or by their attorneys, relating to business before the court.
  • Termination of Parental Rights Hearing:  A formal proceeding usually sought by a state agency at the conclusion of dependency proceedings, in which severance of all legal ties between the child and parents is sought against the will of one or both parents, and in which the burden of proof must be by clear and convincing evidence; the most heavily litigated and appealed stage of dependency proceedings; also referred to in some states as "severance" or "guardianship with the power to consent to adoption" "permanent commitment and permanent neglect or modification hearing.
  • Voluntary Agreement for Care:  Arrangement with a public child protection agency for the temporary placement of a child into foster care, entered into prior to court involvement, and typically used in cases which short-term placement is necessary for a defined purpose such as when a parent enters in-patient hospital care; a method of immediately placing child in foster care with parental consent prior to initiating court involvement. thereby avoiding the need to petition the court for emergency removal.



Excerpted, in part, from Glossary of Selected Legal Terms for Juvenile Justice Personnel (1988), and Integrated Glossary of Normal Child Sexuality and Child Sexual Abuse Terms for Juvenile Justice Professionals (1987), National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Reno, Nevada. Also taken from Resource Guidelines, Improving Court Practice in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases (1995).

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Remember, the purpose of Juvenile Court is to keep children safe and to help families create a safe home for their children.  If you do not understand the purpose of any of the hearings you are asked to attend, talk to your attorney.

Prepared for the Children and Families in Carroll County, Georgia by
Carroll County CASA, Inc.

Our booklet was adapted from a booklet prepared by the North Carolina Court Improvement Services/Resources Sub-Committee. Members and Contributing Writers included: Judge Cheryl Spencer, District Court Judge; Cy Gurney, MSW, NC GAL District Administrator, Colleen Kosinski NC GAL District Administrator, Cheryl Davis, JD, NC GAL Pro Bono Project Coordinator Lana Dial, North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts

For more information about the North Carolina Court Improvement Project (CIP), contact Lana Dial, CIP Manager.  NC Administrative Office of the Courts, 919.733.1530, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For more information about the Carroll County CASA Program, contact Amanda Camp, Program Director at 770-838-1964 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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