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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Anatomy of a Permanency Hearing

If you haven't spent much time in court, you probably have no point of reference or what to expect at foster care related court dates. Our foster parent training came with a break down of what is supposed to happen at certain types of court hearings but I'm never really sure what to expect.  (Each state and county handle things differently and this case is a different county than the Fab Four.)

First off, Sheila was 30 minutes late again. And since court didn't start on time, she made it by the skin of her teeth. We walked in the court room and were seated. Foster Parents sit in the gallery with the caseworker and CASA worker. 

The judge references the case and names everyone in the room. We had the CASA attorney (GAL and kids' attorney), the Assistant States Attorney (ASA) for the county, the DCFS attorney, the caseworker supervisor, the CASA worker, us, and Sheila.

The ASA began by brining up some administrative stuff for bio Dad (who didn't show).  They were unable to serve him with the summons so they are going to try an alternative address. If that doesn't work, they will publish in the newspaper about the case. Then we pretty much dove right in. The ASA asked that a goal change of Substitute Care pending determination of termination of parental rights. And Mom's  attorney put Sheila on the stand to give testimony.

It was hard to listen. I was taking notes and could see the attorney was trying to paint a picture that she was making efforts towards her case plan. I felt bad for Sheila as she was really nervous and didn't articulate well, any of the information they were trying to get her to provide. She even gave the wrong ages to the kids. Basically in the last two weeks she hasn't been able to get ahold of the caseworker who is in training and they tried to use that as blame for her lack of progress. I had to give it to her attorney, for a moment I really thought the goal was going to remain return home.

Then the other 3 attorneys spoke and gave some pretty detailed evidence that she isn't consistent, doesn't understand why her kids aren't with her, and that she has no insight into how to address the issues. The psych eval gave some pretty clear examples of why she doesn't have a good prognosis for parenting her children.

The hearing lasted 2 hours. And the judge ruled that she did not find reasonable progress or efforts. She also stated she believed that the flurry of activity was only because of court and that the case law is clear that, one part of an entire service plan being completed doesn't mean progress. The judge changed the goal to Substiture Care pending determination of termination. Basically that means the next step is the termination trial which happens in 3 steps.

They set a permanency hearing for six months out and a pre-trial status hearing for the termination trial. This is the point where they will give her the option of an identified surrender or going to trial. I'm pretty sure she will go to trial. 

Since the goal is no longer return home services slow down and visits reduce to once a month. I haven't heard yet when that will begin but we already have a natural break due to our travel plans. They also told us if Bio dad misses any 2 visits- they will cancel them altogether. 

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