As those of you who are foster parents or social workers know, there are a multitude of meetings, reviews and court hearings that go along with each foster child. They vary from state to state but I wanted to share the way my state does it and how the decisions are made.
Child Welfare Court Case Timeline
Day 0: Juvenile Petition and Non-Secure Custody Order filed with court [This is what gives the agency the authority to remove the child from the biological home]
Day 7: Initial hearing to determine need for continued non-secure custody which may be continued for up to ten (10) business days by consent; subsequent hearings within seven (7) business days and then thirty (30) calendar day intervals [This is when the agency presents the court with their evidence of abuse/neglect/dependency and requests that the court continue the order for the child to remain in foster care. Most of the attorneys for the birth parents will waive the subsequent hearings]
Day 60: Adjudicatory hearing no later than sixty (60) days from filing [This is when the judge hears evidence from the agency and the birth parents concerning the reasons the child was removed. The judge then makes a ruling as to whether the child should be declared neglected, abused or dependant. This ruling is very important as it determines the services that are offered to the parents and the likely length of the case]
Day 90: Dispositional hearing should take place immediately following adjudication; if not, it shall be concluded within thirty (30) days of the adjudication hearing [In my county, the dispositional hearing always was included in the same hearing as the Adjudication. The dispositional hearing is where the judge takes the recommendations from the agency and the GAL and determines what the parents need to do in order to regain custody of their child. For example- 12 weeks of parenting classes, Psych assessment and follow recommendations, Substance abuse assessment and follow recommendations, domestic violence assessment and follow recommendations, find stable housing, etc. These orders become part of the parents case plan]
Day 180: Review of custody order must be held within ninety (90) days of disposition with a subsequent review within six (6) months [This is when the judge assesses the parents progress on their case plan. The judge may add new required services based on recommendations of the agency or the GAL. Some counties do not have another Review until the Permanency planning hearing at the end of one year. My county did Reviews every 90 days to assess the parents progress]
Day 365: Permanency planning hearing must be held within twelve (12) months of initial order removing custody, and may be combined with reviews with subsequent permanency planning hearings at least every six (6) months [The one year review is typically the one where the agency either recommends continuing with reunification or changing the primary plan]
So that is the way court works. Now, we’ve covered the court hearing time line. I’m going to show you the timeline for the Agency Reviews, also called Permanency Planning Action Team Reviews. These reviews include the social worker, the birth parents, the GAL, the foster parents, the social worker’s supervisor, the court liaison, the GAL supervisor and typically one social worker from the placement division and the other 3 team supervisors.
The reviews consist of 4 parts: Summary of Case & Recommendations from last review, Issues to be addressed by team, Service Provisions and Team Recommendations.
Summary of Case & Recommendations from last review: This states the primary plan, the concurrent plan and the secondary plan. It also includes the services that the parents are required to complete and any notable information from a previous review (such as the parent refused to show up, threw a temper tantrum, etc).
Issues to be Addressed by Team: This includes what the barrier/safety issues are that prevent the plan from being achieved on that day and what it will take to get the child in a permanent home
Service Provisions: This directly spells out exactly what agency efforts have been made to achieve permanency for the child (such as referrals to parenting classes, substance abuse, developmental screenings, etc). This is also where the social worker lists the progress the parents have made towards their case plan. The last part states what services have been provided by other community agencies to help the family achieve permanency and states what other services might be required.
Team Recommendations: This is the final outcome of the review. This is the section that states whether the team decided to continue services in place, continue reunification efforts or to change the primary plan.
Review 1: Within 60 days of the child coming into custody [This review is typically scheduled for immediately(within 14 days) after the Adjudication and Dispositional Court hearing.
Review 2: Within 90 days of the first agency team review, but no more than 150 days of the child coming into agency custody
Subsequent reviews take place every 6 months unless there is a change in circumstance that necessitates a review. [In my state, a child may not be removed from a foster home (except in cases of abuse) without an action review. My family is directly responsible for this change in law. Previously a social worker could decide to move a child, and poof- they were gone. This law came about because of the catastrophic conclusion to our fostering career.]
Separate from the Permanency Planning Action Reviews are the Child and Family Team Meetings. A CFT meeting is a way to engage and partner with all the people who surround a family and to support the family in building a support network that will eventually sustain them after the case is closed. A CFT meeting is more than a way to simply show respect or “be nice” to the family; it is a way for the agency to share responsibility for protecting children/youth with their families and the community. The CFT meetings are held by the social worker with a facilitator and also include the birth family, the foster parent, the GAL, any therapists or support people working with the family and the child if they are over age 13.
Child and Family Team Meetings are required at the following times during the case:
*Within 30 days of coming into care
*Within 60 days of coming into care
*Within 90 days after 60 day meeting, not more than 150 days after coming into care
*Every 6 months thereafter throughout the life of the case
*When there is a change in the plan or family circumstance and it is necessary to reconvene the team to discuss progress
The CFT meetings are more informal than the Agency Reviews. There is more dialogue between the birth family and the agency and less pointing of fingers and blame. The CFT meetings are where a lot of the case decisions are made. I hope that gives you a clearer picture of the inner workings of a CPS case.