What is a Permanency Hearing in Family Court?
A permanency hearing, also known as a permanent placement review hearing, is a critical court hearing that occurs in child welfare cases. Permanency hearings are held periodically after a child has been removed from their home and placed into foster care. The hearings are a key part of the process of finding a permanent home for a child in foster care.
Purpose of Permanency Hearings
The main purposes of permanency hearings are:
To Review Case Progress
The court reviews the progress made on the child’s case plan and whether the child welfare agency is making reasonable efforts to finalize the permanency plan. This includes looking at the services provided to the child and family.
To Determine Appropriate Permanency Goal
The court determines whether the current permanency goal continues to be appropriate and in the child’s best interests, or whether the goal needs to be changed.
To Evaluate Parental Progress
The court looks at the progress parents have made in alleviating the issues that led to the child’s removal, like completing court-ordered services. Lack of progress could lead to termination of parental rights.
To Assess Child’s Placement
The court evaluates whether the child’s current placement is appropriate, stable, and meeting the child’s needs. Placement with family is preferable to non-family options like foster care.
To Move Toward Permanent Home
These hearings aim to move the case in a timely manner toward establishing a permanent home for the child, which provides stability.
When Are Permanency Hearings Held?
Permanency hearings are held at least every 6 months after a child enters foster care. Many states require permanency hearings more frequently, such as every 3 or 4 months. The timing ensures regular monitoring of the case.
Initial Permanency Hearing
The first permanency hearing is typically held within 12 months after the child’s removal from their home.
Ongoing Permanency Hearings
Permanency hearings continue every 6 months until the child achieves permanency or ages out of foster care. More hearings may be ordered as needed.
Concurrent Permanency Hearings
If reunification becomes unlikely, concurrent permanency hearings are held to work on alternate permanency plans like adoption.
Who Is Involved in a Permanency Hearing?
Several key individuals are involved in and may attend a permanency hearing:
The child who is the subject of the case has a right to attend permanency hearings, either directly or through a representative like an attorney or guardian ad litem.
The child’s parents or other caretakers have a right to participate in permanency hearings. Their attorneys may also attend.
The child must have their own attorney, often called a guardian ad litem (GAL), to represent their interests in court. The GAL plays a pivotal role.
The child welfare agency caseworker monitors the case plan and is required to submit reports to the court with recommendations. The caseworker often testifies.
Representatives from the child welfare agency may attend and provide information about the case and agency actions.
The judge oversees the proceedings, considers evidence and testimony, and makes rulings to move the case toward appropriate permanency.
What Happens at a Permanency Hearing?
The following generally takes place during a permanency hearing:
Caseworker Submits Report
The agency caseworker submits a detailed report about progress made, the child’s wellbeing, and recommendations.
Court Reviews Case Plan Compliance
The court reviews whether all parties have been following the case plan and court orders. Noncompliance may be addressed.
Testimony and Evidence
The caseworker, GAL, agency representatives, parents and others may testify. Evidence is presented.
Hearing on Reasonable Efforts
The judge must find that reasonable efforts have been made by the agency toward permanency. Additional orders may be issued.
The judge weighs evidence to make determinations about placement, services, permanency goal, and next steps.
Parties May Negotiate Agreement
The various parties may negotiate an agreement on matters like visitation, services for parents, etc. which the judge can approve.
Next Hearing Date Scheduled
Before adjourning, the judge schedules the date for the next required permanency hearing.
Possible Outcomes of Permanency Hearings
Some potential outcomes of permanency hearings include:
If the child’s placement is inappropriate, the court may order a change in placement to foster care, relative care, etc.
Additional Services Ordered
The court may order the child welfare agency to provide additional services to meet the child’s needs. For parents, additional remedial services may be ordered to facilitate reunification.
The court may alter the visitation plan for parents, siblings, or relatives. For example, increasing visits to prepare for reunification.
If parents are not progressing as needed, the judge may change the permanency goal to adoption or an alternate permanent arrangement.
Termination of Parental Rights
If parents have failed to remedy issues after being given sufficient time and support, the court may initiate termination of parental rights proceedings.
Adoption or Guardianship
The court may finalize an adoption or guardianship arrangement to achieve permanency if reunification is ruled out.
Importance of Permanency Hearings
Permanency hearings play a vital role in child welfare cases by:
Regular court oversight motivates agencies to make diligent efforts toward permanency and ensures accountability.
Avoiding Foster Care Drift
Frequent hearings prevent cases from drifting indefinitely in temporary foster care arrangements.
Verifying Reasonable Efforts
The reasonable efforts finding verifies that the state provided adequate services for family reunification.
Protecting Child Best Interests
The focus on the child’s needs and best interests helps ensure their safety, wellbeing, and timely permanency.
Timely decisions made at these hearings allow permanency to be achieved more quickly, giving the child needed stability.
Reinforcing ASFA Principles
Permanency hearings align with and reinforce the goals of the Adoption and Safe Families Act to promote timely permanency.
Permanency hearings are a critical piece of the child welfare legal process following a child’s removal from their family. Through ongoing court oversight and review, these hearings aim to hold all parties accountable, evaluate progress toward permanency goals, and make timely decisions regarding permanent and stable home environments for foster children. When conducted properly, permanency hearings can be instrumental in reforming the system and protecting the best interests of vulnerable children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
What is the purpose of permanency hearings?
The main purposes are to review case progress, determine appropriate permanency goals, assess parental progress, evaluate placements, and move the case toward establishing a permanent home for the child.
How often are permanency hearings held?
Permanency hearings must be held at least every 6 months after a child enters foster care, and usually more frequently, such as every 3 to 4 months.
Who may attend permanency hearings?
Key individuals like the child, parents, caseworker, child’s attorney, and agency representatives may attend and provide testimony. The judge oversees the proceedings.
What happens at a permanency hearing?
The case plan is reviewed, testimony is heard, evidence considered, and the judge makes determinations about placement, services, permanency goals, and next steps.
What are possible outcomes?
Potential outcomes include changes in placement or visitation, additional services ordered, changes to the permanency goal, termination of parental rights, and finalization of an adoption or guardianship.