The Answer Book: What happens in Juvenile Court permanency hearings?

If you understand what happens, you will want to make sure you are there!

Table of Contents

What is a permanency hearing?

The permanency hearing is held at the courthouse, where the judge is focused completely on YOU and YOUR FUTURE. The hearing happens within the first 12 months you are in foster care, but can be every six months if you are 14 or older. Your social worker is responsible for talking to you and writing down your plan including your goal of either reunification with your parents, adoption or guardianship. The judge will review the plan in court. Your lawyer can tell the judge if you don't like the plan or want it changed. The judge will look at the plan and make sure it has what you need before agreeing to it. The judge will also decide whether your social worker has tried hard enough to help you reach your permanency goal. If you haven't reached your permanency goal, the court will schedule another hearing within 12 months, or within 6 months, depending on your judge. 

You have a right to be at the hearing no matter how old you are. If you want a hearing and it is not scheduled, talk to your lawyer. Your permanency hearing should be on a day and time that is good for you, after school if you prefer. If you are 14 years of age or older, the judge expects you to be at court so make sure it is at a time when you can attend. Be sure to tell your social worker and lawyer whether you are able to be present. They may be able to ask the court to re-schedule the hearing after school or at another time more convenient for you. 

What does my lawyer do at my permanency hearing?

Your lawyer should get a copy of your written permanency plan (written by your social worker based on what you want and need) from DCF 30 days before the court hearing. Your lawyer will meet with you before the hearing to talk with you about the plan and to find out what you think about it. If you want to change something in the plan, your lawyer can tell DCF and the judge in court what it is you want to change. Your lawyer can try to get DCF to change the plan to be what you want. If DCF doesn't agree, your lawyer can ask the judge in court not to approve the plan. Your lawyer can also make sure that you are brought to court to be at the hearing and can help you speak to the judge if you want to. The hearing is an opportunity for you to talk directly to the judge. Prepare for this with your lawyer.

If you are a member of an Indian tribe or think either of your parents may be a member, be sure to tell your lawyer so that you will receive the special services you are entitled to under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Who will be in the courtroom?

You, and your attorney will sit together in the courtroom so you can talk to each other easily. Your brothers and sisters may also be present. Your social worker, probation officer, and an attorney for DCF will be there. In most cases your parents and their attorneys will also be in court. Your foster parents, pre-adoptive parent or relative providing care for you may also be present. If you are a Native American child, a representative from your tribe will also be present. If you don't like having all of these people in the courtroom talk to your lawyer before the hearing and he may be able to help you. If you do not know who your lawyer is, tell the judge. The judge will be in charge of the hearing. A court clerk will take notes on what happens in the courtroom. A court officer responsible for security will be available to keep order.

What do I wear to court?

Most lawyers wear business suits to court. You do not have to wear a suit, but you show respect for the court and feel better being there if your clothes are clean, neat and appropriate. No flip-flops, torn jeans, hats, low-cut tops, or mini-skirts. If you follow the same dress code you have for school, you should be fine.

What do I say in court?

Talk to your lawyer about whether you want to return home, be adopted, live in a guardianship with a relative or someone else or whether you want to stay in DCF care after you turn 18. You may want to let the judge know if you want to stay in your own school or move to another one, or aim for vocational training or college. You may want to let the judge know if you want to see a counselor or a doctor or a dentist. You may want to tell the judge you want more frequent visits with your relatives. If you are having problems with the rules at your foster home let the judge know. If there is anything you are uncomfortable talking to the judge about about, let your lawyer know.  You may want to write down some ideas before court

Usually you call the judge, “Judge” or “Your Honor.” When you speak in court, you will often be answering a question the judge has asked. If you don’t know the answer to a question or don’t want to answer a question, it is okay to say that. You can also tell the judge what you want to talk about. Remember the purpose of the hearing is for you to be part of making the plan for your future.

What can the court order?

The judge decides whether your goal will be going back to live with your parents, adoption, guardianship or another permanent placement if you are at least 16. The judge also decides when you should reach that goal. The judge will determine whether DCF has taken steps to ensure that your foster care provider is following the "reasonable and prudent parent standard" which allows teens living in foster care to participate in extracurricular, enrichment, cultural, and social activities if most other parents would allow that.

In most cases the court will also determine whether DCF has made reasonable efforts to safely reunify you with your parents or guardian, or to reach the goal ordered at an earlier court hearing. If you are a Native American child, the court must determine whether DCF has met the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act in making enough efforts to reach your goal. If you are at least 14, the court will determine whether your plan gives you the services you need to make a transition from foster care to a successful adulthood. If you are about to turn 18 or are a young adult, the permanency report will include information about services available for you if you decide to remain in care or to live on your own so that you can do that successfully. The court will also order the date and time for the next hearing if you haven't reached your goal. 

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