- The legislation requires action by mandating that the Children’s Division or the juvenile office initiate or seek to join proceedings (if filed by another party) to terminate parental rights, when a child has resided in care for 15 of the most recent 22 months, when a child is an abandoned infant, or when the parent(s) has been convicted of certain felonies outlined below unless the following conditions exist:
- At the option of the state, the child is being cared for by a relative provider; or
- A state agency has documented, in the case plan (which shall be made available to the court), compelling reasons that filing a petition would not be in the child’s best interest; or
- The state has not provided timely services deemed necessary, as documented in the case plan, for the safe return of the child to the home.
For purposes of meeting the mandated time frames, a child’s time in care is defined as the earlier of:
- The date of the first judicial finding that the child was subjected to child abuse or neglect; or
- The date that is 60 days after the date the child was removed from the home.
- Permanency hearings are mandated to occur within 12 months of a child’s entry into care. A permanency hearing is meant to result in a definitive decision as to the placement of a child in a permanent setting. The juvenile court will be required to enter a decision regarding whether and when a child will be returned home; a termination of parental rights petition filed and placed for adoption; or referred for legal guardianship or other permanent plan.
- The juvenile court is required to notify a child’s current resource provider of court reviews and give them the opportunity to be heard.
- Reasonable efforts to preserve and reunify families are required. However, reasonable efforts may not be necessary in family situations where a court has found the following:
- The parent has subjected the child to aggravated circumstances as defined in state law (including, but not limited to, abandonment, torture, chronic abuse and sexual abuse);
- The parent has committed murder or voluntary manslaughter or aided or abetted, attempted, conspired or solicited to commit such a murder or manslaughter of another child of the parent;
- The parent has committed a felony assault that results in serious bodily injury to the child or another child of the parent; or
- The parental rights of the parent to a sibling have been involuntarily terminated.
The courts will determine when reasonable efforts are not required. If the court makes this determination, a permanency hearing must be held within 30 days of the determination. Reasonable efforts to place the child for adoption, with a legal guardian, or in another permanent placement must also be made during this time. Parents are entitled by law to be notified of meeting, invited, attend and participate in FST meetings until such time as the court terminates their parental rights. A court order relieving CD of the obligation to exercise reasonable efforts does not mean that the parents are no longer entitled to notice and participation in FST meetings.
The state is required to develop plans for effective use of cross-jurisdictional resources to facilitate timely, permanent placements for children awaiting adoption. Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance funding is contingent upon the state’s ability to expedite a child’s adoptive placement, when the approved family is available outside of the jurisdiction with responsibility for the child.
Compliance with the federal law requires identifying children, scheduling permanency planning reviews, conducting reviews, completing a permanency plan and filing termination of parental rights petitions, if appropriate, with the juvenile courts.