In order to determine the best permanency plan for each child and to meet the time frames specified in legislation, the Children’s Division will facilitate permanency planning review team meetings. According to current policy, every child who resides in out-of-home care and in the custody of the Children’s Division must have a permanency planning review within six (6) months of entering legal custody of the Division and every six (6) months thereafter until the Children’s Division is relieved of custody. When a child is initially placed in out-of-home care, the emphasis is usually placed on making reasonable efforts to safely return the child to his or her parents. A concurrent permanency plan should also be discussed should reunification not be in the child’s best interest. Therefore, the emphasis during initial family support meetings is usually placed on treatment planning and implementation that will allow for reunification while the PPRT focuses on the child’s permanency plan.
PPRTs for children who have resided in care for 15 of the most recent 22 months must also focus on permanency. All recommended permanency plans and actions must be documented and immediately provided to the juvenile court.
When the recommended plan is adoption, the Children’s Division or the juvenile office must file a petition to terminate parental rights or seek to join proceedings (if filed by another party) within the following time frames:
- Children in the Division’s custody who entered care on or before November 19, 1997.
If the Family Support Team determines that it is in the best interest of the child to be legally freed for adoption, a petition to terminate the rights of all parents of the child must be filed. Certainly, it is in the child’s best interest to file immediately. In many situations, however, documentation and resources may need to be obtained before the petition can be filed. For this reason, the Adoption and Safe Families Act states that Termination of Parental Rights, TPR, petitions, for children who entered care on or before November 19, 1997 (date of federal enactment), can occur on an incremental basis, over a period of 18 months. For Missouri, the 18-month time frame began July 1, 1998, and extended to January 1, 2000. By January 1, 1999, one-third of all petitions for children who entered care on or before November 19, 1997, should have been filed. Two-thirds had to be completed by July 1, 1999, and all completed by January 1, 2000.
Family Support Teams should develop an action plan that ensures timely filing of petitions or other documentation to the court. Children who have resided in out-of-home care the longest and children who already have a permanency plan of adoption, should be given first priority.
- Children who entered out-of-home care after November 19, 1997.
If the Family Support Team determines that adoption is the best permanency plan for a child who entered out-of-home care after November 19, 1997, a termination of parental rights petition must be filed before the child reaches 15 months in care. When scheduling 12-month reviews for children who entered care after November 19, 1997, the team should consider all permanency options, develop a permanency plan and immediately act on such plan.
In calculating when to file a petition for Termination of Parental Rights, the Children’s Service Worker must:
- Calculate the 15 out of the must recent 22-month period from the date the child is considered to have entered foster care;
- Cumulate the time when a child experiences multiple exits from and entries into foster care during the 22-month period;
- Not include trial home visits or runaway episodes in calculating 15 months in foster care; and
- Only apply if one of the following exist:
- A child who has been determined by a court of competent jurisdiction to be an abandoned infant. The petition to terminate parental rights must be filed within 60 days of the judicial determination that the child is an abandoned infant; or
- A parent who has been convicted of one of the felonies:
- Murder of another child of parent;
- Voluntary Manslaughter of another child of parent;
- Aiding or abetting, attempting conspiring or soliciting to commit such a murder or such a voluntary manslaughter;
- A felony that resulted in serious bodily injury to the child or to another child of the parent; or
- The parental rights of the parent with respect to a sibling have been terminated.
Under such circumstances, the petition, to terminate parental rights must be filed within 60 days of a judicial determination that reasonable efforts to reunify the child and parent are not required.
Under federal and state law the Juvenile Officer or the Children’s Division (with the assistance of the Division of Legal Services, DLS) is required to file a petition for termination of parental rights within certain time frames. The law provides some exceptions when the requirement for filing a TPR petition is excused, even when one of the mandatory grounds or triggering events takes place. One of the exceptions is whether there exists compelling reasons for determining that filing such a petition would not be in the best interests of the child, as documented in the permanency plan which shall be made available for court review.
Whenever it appears that one of the mandatory grounds or triggering events for the filing of termination of parental rights exists in a case, a Supervisory Case Review must occur to determine whether one of the exceptions applies. If none of the exceptions applies then the worker should prepare a TPR referral packet and refer the case to the Juvenile Officer or the Division of Legal Services for the filing of a petition. If it appears that one of the exceptions may apply, then the worker, in consultation with their supervisory, must carefully document in the case file what exception applies and the factual basis for the determination.