Alabama courts are partnering with the State to remove barriers for waiting children
Alabama adoption being finalized using a court hearing convened through Zoom
The State of Alabama has been working in partnership with their courts to ensure that new barriers to in-person contact due to COVID-19 don’t keep adoptions from being finalized, whenever safely possible. In one case, the State requested that a judge reconsider a court order preventing a child from visiting a prospective adoptive family and it was GRANTED! This child is now in her forever home. In other cases, the State has been able to work with the courts to finalize adoptions via court hearings convened through Zoom. We are encouraged by Alabama’s collaborative efforts with the courts to ensure that nothing impedes permanency for their waiting children!
Florida judge continues work to finalize adoptions despite court building closures
We applaud the efforts of Judge David M. Gooding, Circuit Court Judge in the Fourth Judicial Circuit of Florida, for taking the initiative to continue adoption hearings virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of March 27, in the 2 weeks since Judge Gooding had to leave his courthouse, he issued orders that placed 31 children in foster care with their forever families. Thank you, Judge Gooding, for continuing this critical work to finalize permanency for these children!
Kentucky courts use data and collaborative partnerships to support timely permanency for children
(Left) Heather Carvell, case manager, and (Right) the Honorable Deanna Henschel, judge, McCracken County Family Court
The Kentucky Administrative Office of the Court’s (AOC) Department of Family and Juvenile Services has worked closely with Kentucky judges and AOC’s Research and Statistics Department to provide data reports allowing them to prioritize hearings for a child in a preadoptive home or a trial home visit. As a result, permanency has been achieved for those children through rapid adoptions. For example, on May 15, 2020, McCracken Family Court Judge Deanna Henschel received an AOC email notification providing data on children in preadoptive/adoptive placements, in trial home visits, or nearing age 18. After reviewing the cases, Judge Henschel noticed an adoption petition filed in March 2020 that was only lacking the guardian ad litem report. Thanks to Judge Henschel’s responsiveness in following up with the attorney, this child’s adoption was finalized on May 27, 2020 using Skype! The new AOC triage case management process in Kentucky is working successfully within a remote-work atmosphere during the pandemic.
In an effort to support meaningful cross-systems collaboration, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Debra Hembree Lambert leads a Judicial Engagement Workgroup comprising child welfare agency staff, family court judges, AOC’s staff, and youth advocates. The workgroup was convened to enhance communication, disseminate best practices to the field, and provide judges and court officials guidance about the best way to provide solutions for the immediate needs of families. The group meets monthly to update all stakeholders on changes, barriers, and challenges; answer questions; and discuss any future considerations and responses for the courts.
We applaud these strategic and collaborative efforts by Kentucky’s courts to promote timely permanency for children!
Pennsylvania courts are ALL IN supporting meaningful collaboration
Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Max Baer
Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson met with Supreme Court Justice Max Baer, a long-time advocate for youth in foster care. The Office of Children and Families in the Courts is part of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Court’s Judicial Programs Department and receives guidance and direction from the State Roundtable, which is chaired by Supreme Court Justice Baer. The State Roundtable commissioned the State’s Permanency Practice Initiative and, most recently, the Family Engagement Initiative. Both efforts showcase the power of court and agency partnerships in improving outcomes for children and families and are key projects of the Court Improvement Program. The Family Engagement Initiative includes three critical components: family finding (to ensure children are surrounded by a lifelong network of kin supports), crisis/rapid-response family meetings (to ensure meaningful partnerships with families that support decision-making), and enhanced legal representation (to support high-quality representation and ensure judges receive accurate information to inform decisions). We are encouraged by the collaborative efforts of the agency and court in Pennsylvania!
Collaborative efforts in Puerto Rico are effective in finalizing adoptions for waiting children
The first adoption hearing held by videoconference in Puerto Rico during the pandemic
Puerto Rico has been “ALL IN” by creating strategies to promote adoption for every eligible child. As soon as the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders began, Puerto Rico identified which adoption cases were pending court finalization in order to schedule court hearings by videoconference. The courts, through the Court Improvement Program, and the child welfare agency have been working together to make sure that court notifications in adoption cases are being sent directly to the adoption social worker by email. The adoption social workers have been working very hard to support families as they prepare for finalization and have ensured visitation is possible, even with remote-working protocols and social distancing. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and orders to stay home, there have been 13 adoptions finalized in Puerto Rico. We appreciate the collaborative work Puerto Rico is doing to secure permanency for waiting children!
Texas court goes above and beyond to make an adoption hearing extra special
Prado family Zoom adoption hearing
Prado family celebrating Disney style!
The special adoptee
The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t going to prevent a special adoption celebration for the Prado family. This memorable adoption consummation was held on April 30, 2020, in Laredo, TX, in the 406th District Court by the Honorable Judge Oscar J. Hale, Jr. The Prado family had previously adopted three other children and celebrated by taking a family trip to Walt Disney World. Due to COVID-19, they knew this would not be possible, so they opted for the next best thing and brought Disney’s Mickey Mouse to the adoption!
The family asked all family members, the child protective services caseworker, their attorney, and Judge Hale to dress in Mickey Mouse-inspired clothing. During the virtual court hearing, over 20 family members and friends were wearing red- and black-colored clothing with Mickey Mouse ears or other Disney-themed accessories. The family also decorated their background with a balloon arch and Mickey Mouse ears, and the special little girl wore a red and black Minnie Mouse outfit. Judge Hale even wore a Mickey Mouse tie! After the consummation, Judge Hale requested all participants sing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song, and all gladly obliged. Judge Hale kept his Zoom line open for a few extra minutes after the adoption consummation to allow the family and guests to celebrate this joyous occasion using the virtual platform.
Texas courts and Court Improvement Program are ALL IN for permanency and best practices in supporting families
We applaud the robust efforts in Texas courts and through the Court Improvement Program to facilitate meaningful training, promote best practices in family time, and leverage technology for the benefit of children and families!
Webcast panel discussion
Spurred by the need to adapt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court of Texas Children’s Commission hosted a webcast panel discussion for practitioners in child welfare cases called, “Effective Advocacy in the Virtual CPS Courtroom.” Moderated by District Court Judge Rob Hofmann, panelists Jana Clift-Williams, court-appointed attorney for parents; Dennis Arriaga, managing attorney, Department of Family and Protective Services; and Ann Marie Smith, court-appointed attorney for parents, shared tips on how to facilitate a client’s meaningful participation in a virtual hearing; how to properly elicit testimony on Zoom; how to properly enter evidence on Zoom; and how to review orders in a virtual setting.
Pictured, top L–R: Hon. Thomas Stuckey, associate judge of the Centex Child Protection Court South; Hon. Angela Graves-Harrington, district judge of the 246th Family Court in Harris County; and Hon. Carlos Villalon Jr., associate judge for the Child Protection Court of the Rio Grande Valley West.
Bottom, L–R: Hon. Rob Hofmann, judge, of 452nd District Court, and jurist, Residence for the Children’s Commission; Hon. Delia Gonzales, associate judge, Child Protection and Permanency Court, Dallas County; and Hon. Melissa DeGerolami, associate judge, Child Protection Court of South Central Texas.
In June 2020, five Texas judges shared their experiences with virtual child welfare hearings and ways to advance permanency for children in care in the 1-hour webcast, “Benefits of Utilizing Technology in Child Welfare Cases.” “The greatest lesson that this pandemic has given our country is the realization that family separation, isolation, and loss are truly traumatic and emotionally challenging experiences. And yet somehow, we have found ways to keep connected with our own family by video or phone,” said Judge Carlos Villalon. “The child welfare world is no exception, and the notion that family time can only occur once a month, once a week, or even twice a week is no longer an acceptable standard when we are currently able to conduct virtual and phone visits to ‘supplement’ in-person visitation and keep parent and child connected. There is no going back.”
Virtual Adoption Hearing
Child Protection Court Judge Kelly Tesch of Lubbock, TX, has conducted several adoption proceedings since working remotely. Judge Tesch noted, “The virtual adoption hearings have been so satisfying to be a part of during quarantine. Now that families are confined to their homes, the adoptions are different in a good way… everyone is relaxed, wearing their play clothes, and sitting in their own living room or at the kitchen table. The kids are more at ease and everyone is having a great time. It’s like being invited to a neighborhood cookout or family reunion. One family even held their Zoom adoption in the backyard, with red, white, and blue streamers and decorations. I really feel like I get a window into the kids’ new lives with their forever family.”
Dallas Permanency Court Successfully Engages Families in Securing Permanency and Well-Being for Children
The Dallas Permanency Court is modeled after a similar court in Houston that specializes in finding permanency for children and youth in the long-term care of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Judge Gonzales, who presides over the Dallas Permanency Court, identifies barriers to permanency and brings an individualized approach to every child and family. Whether that is helping secure eyeglasses for a child with severe disabilities, speaking with relative caregivers about what it means to be licensed foster parents, exploring whether the circumstances of a parent whose rights have been terminated may have changed, or finding an adoptive home committed to sibling contact for a youth who has been separated from his or her young siblings, Judge Gonzales maintains urgency and thinks outside the box. At the heart of the Dallas Permanency Court is a commitment to youth and family engagement and finding permanency for every child.
Permanency Success Stories From the Dallas Permanency Court
Hon. Delia Gonzales greeting a child adopted by her forever family
For a child with severe disabilities, the Dallas Permanency Court worked diligently to sign a medical necessity order and get the child the eyeglasses she needed. After obtaining all of the approvals to receive 24-hour nursing care, this child was adopted by her forever family.
Thank you card from a foster youth reunified with his mother
In 2014, a termination of parental rights occurred when a young boy was just 8 years old. This case was referred to the Dallas Permanency Court in April 2019. The youth was living in a residential treatment center and had been in 14 previous placements during his time in the foster care system. Judge Delia Gonzales ordered the child welfare agency to reach out to the child’s biological mother to determine if her circumstances had changed. After the child welfare agency located the youth’s mother, and after multiple collaborative discussions, the youth and his mother were reunified in December 2019. At the final hearing, the youth thanked Judge Gonzales for helping him find the mother that he had been looking for, for years.
Family members celebrating permanency for five siblings
A sibling set of five children was recently placed permanently with family members. After Judge Gonzales discussed the Fostering Connections program with the family, they chose to participate. The family got licensed; the children received special education services, and the family received the necessary information to continue those services; and the family obtained custody of the children.
Thank you letter from an adopted youth to the Honorable Delia Gonzales
The Dallas County Permanency Court heard the case of a sibling group of three who had been in care for 3 years, with termination of parental rights granted almost 2 years ago. The children were separated, and the oldest was in seven placements during her time in care. The oldest youth was referred to the juvenile justice system and struggled with the overall trauma of being in care. She was placed in a foster home that had previously adopted teenage girls. As time progressed, her placement became more secure and her foster parents became willing to adopt her. The foster family committed to ensuring sibling contact after the adoption. The oldest youth was adopted recently, and she is doing very well. To express her gratitude, she wrote a letter to Judge Gonzales.