Court Hearings for the Permanent Placement of Children - Montana

Date: February 2020

Schedule of Hearings

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 41-3-115; 41-3-445

When a child is in foster care under the supervision of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, the foster care review committee shall conduct a review of the foster care status of the child. The review must be conducted within the time limit established under the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (42 U.S.C. 675).

A permanency hearing must be held by the court, the foster care review committee, or the citizen review board, as follows:

  • Within 30 days of a determination that reasonable efforts to provide preservation or reunification services are not necessary
  • No later than 12 months after the initial court finding that the child has been subjected to abuse or neglect or 12 months after the child's first 60 days of removal from the home, whichever comes first

Within 12 months of the initial permanency hearing, and every 12 months thereafter until the child is permanently placed in either an adoptive or a guardianship placement, the court or the court-approved entity holding the permanency hearing shall conduct a hearing, and the court shall issue a finding as to whether the department has made reasonable efforts to finalize the permanency plan for the child.

Persons Entitled to Attend Hearings

Citation: Ann. Code § 41-3-115

Reasonable notice of each review must be sent to the following:

  • The parents of the child or their attorneys
  • If applicable, the foster parents, a relative caring for the child, the preadoptive parents, or the surrogate parents
  • The child who is the subject of the review, if he or she is age 12 or older
  • The child's attorney, if any
  • The child's guardian ad litem
  • The court-appointed attorney or special advocate of the child
  • A representative of the child's Indian Tribe, if the child is an Indian

Determinations Made at Hearings

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 41-3-115; 41-3-445

The foster care review committee shall hear the case of each child in foster care to review issues that are germane to the goals of permanency and to accessing appropriate services for parents and children. In evaluating the accessibility, availability, and appropriateness of services, the committee shall consider the following:

  • The safety, history, and specific needs of the child
  • Whether an involved agency has selected services specifically relevant to the problems and needs of the child and family
  • Whether appropriate services have been available to the child and family on a timely basis
  • The results of intervention
  • If the child is placed in foster care in another State, whether the placement is appropriate and in the best interests of the child

The permanency hearing may be combined with other required review hearings. If an entity other than the court conducts the hearing, the entity shall keep minutes of the hearing and the minutes and written recommendations must be provided to the court within 20 days of the hearing. If the court concurs with the recommendations, the court may adopt the recommendations as findings with no additional hearing required. In this case, the court shall issue written findings within 10 days of receipt of the written recommendations.

The court shall approve a specific permanency plan for the child and make written findings on the following:

  • Whether the child has been asked about the desired permanency outcome
  • Whether the permanency plan is in the best interests of the child
  • Whether the department has made reasonable efforts to effectuate the permanency plan for the individual child
  • Whether the department has made reasonable efforts to finalize the plan
  • Whether there are compelling reasons why it is not in the best interests of the individual child to return or be placed for adoption, with a legal guardian, or with a fit and willing relative
  • Other necessary steps that the department is required to take to effectuate the terms of the plan

For a child age 14 or older, the permanency plan must comply with the following:

  • Be developed in consultation with the child and in consultation with up to two members of the child's case planning team who are chosen by the child and who are not a foster parent or social worker for the child
  • Identify one person from the case management team, who is selected by the child, to be designated as the child's advisor and advocate for the application of the reasonable and prudent parenting standard
  • Include services that will be needed to transition the child from foster care to adulthood

A permanency hearing must document the intensive, ongoing, and unsuccessful efforts made by the department to return the child to the child's home or to secure a permanent placement of the child with a relative, legal guardian, or adoptive parent.

Permanency Options

Citation: Ann. Code § 41-3-445

Permanency options include the following:

  • Reunification with the child's parent or guardian
  • Permanent placement of the child with the noncustodial parent, superseding any existing custodial order
  • Adoption
  • Appointment of a guardian
  • Long-term custody, if the child is in a planned permanent living arrangement and any of the following apply:
    • The child is being cared for by a fit and willing relative.
    • The child has an emotional or mental handicap that is so severe that the child cannot function in a family setting, and the best interests of the child are served by placement in a residential or group setting.
    • The child is at least age 16 and is participating in an independent living program.
    • The child's parent is incarcerated, and circumstances, including placement of the child and continued, frequent contact with the parent, indicate that it would not be in the best interests of the child to terminate parental rights of that parent.
    • There is a judicial finding that other more permanent placement options for the child have been considered and found to be inappropriate or to be not in the best interests of the child.
    • The department has made reasonable efforts to reunite the parent and child, further efforts by the department would likely be unproductive, and reunification of the child with the parent or guardian would be contrary to the best interests of the child.
    • The child has been in a placement in which the foster parent or relative has committed to the long-term care of and a relationship with the child, and it is in the best interests of the child to remain in that placement.