At the Children’s Commission’s annual Child Welfare Judges Conference held in October 2019, over 80 District and Associate Judges who preside over child protection dockets across the state and 11 DFPS Regional Directors met to discuss judicial and agency practices that positively and negatively impact permanency outcomes for children and youth in foster care. Included below are the judicial practices identified as having the greatest positive impact on five permanency outcomes (reunification, relative adoption, non-relative adoption, Permanent Managing Conservatorship [PMC] with Permanency Care Assistance [PCA], and PMC without PCA):
- Ensure attorneys are appointed for every parent from the outset and throughout the case.
- Retain the child’s attorney ad litem until the child exits the foster care system.
- Conduct more frequent review hearings to follow up on important matters.
- Create a motions docket that occurs at regular intervals and that is available to any party. For example, the docket could address motions for substitution of counsel, change in visitation, placement change, or monitored return.
- Maintain time-certain docketing practices (e.g., 4 hearings per hour) so that every case receives a minimum amount of time/attention, and maximizes parent, child, youth, and caregiver participation and engagement.
- Ensure the Parent Resources Form is completed before the Adversary Hearing.
- Develop a process to identify every relative and fictive kin appearing on a matter. For example, utilize court staff to identify who is present for which case and then inform the judge.
- Ask children at every hearing about relatives and important adults in an age-appropriate manner.
- Explain to parents what concurrent planning is and why it’s necessary; then discuss permanency options including PCA.
- Require clear articulation of reasonable efforts to execute the child’s permanency plan and memorialize the specific reasonable efforts made in the court order.
Licensing & Home Studies
- Be proactive about the licensing process. For example, confirm that the licensing process has been initiated early in the case.
- Assess PCA eligibility as early as possible, including any policy or licensing waivers that may be needed and inquire at hearings about which PCA application documents are missing.
- Request that CASA / GAL assist in helping caregivers to navigate the licensing process.
- Consider ordering DFPS to conduct expedited and concurrent home studies.
- Hold more than one Adoption Day per year (i.e., not just in November).
- Hold 30- or 60-day adoption progress hearings to closely track efforts to find an adoptive home as well as efforts to consummate adoption.
- Allow Associate Judges to preside over adoptions.
- Make concerted efforts to find a legally permanent placement for the child even if the child is stable in a non-permanent placement.
- Have candid discussions about adoption with older children.
Extensions Beyond 12-Month Deadline
- Refrain from granting routine extensions beyond the 12-month dismissal deadline unless clear extraordinary circumstances exist.
- If granted, require DFPS / parties to articulate the extraordinary circumstances and include these in the court order.
- If a six-month extension is granted, set a review hearing at three months and if appropriate, close the case before the full extension time has run.
Respect the Statutory Deadline
- Refrain from commencing trial on the merits and then recessing indefinitely.
Access to Justice
- Expand availability of judicial time.
- Advocate for and think creatively about physical space to conduct hearings and interviews with children.
To promote better outcomes related to permanency, the Children’s Commission can provide data analysis and technical assistance to judges interested in developing a project around one of the listed practices. For more information, please contact