For Legal Professionals
Legal professionals, in collaboration with child welfare, are integral to achieving permanency for older youth. In order to provide quality representation and ensure the plan meets the young person’s needs, professionals must engage youth. The resources below provide strategies for collaborating with child welfare, youth engagement, and supporting adoption for older youth. Additionally, two States that are incorporating young people in the court process and improving timely permanency for older youth are highlighted.
- Multidisciplinary team resulted in quicker resolution of cases and was better for preserving family connections.
- Trainings that focus on improving understanding of how each profession contributes to successful outcomes and encourages recognition and appreciation of those contributions.
- Increased understanding, recognition, and appreciation can grow mutual trust and respect, which is essential to collaboration.
Georgia's Cold Case Project: Improving Outcomes for Children in Foster Care (Tom C. Rawlings, American Bar Association)
- Cold cases are selected based on data that predict which children in foster care were most likely to age out without permanency.
- The Cold Case project utilizes attorneys who work part-time and are highly experienced in child welfare cases.
- The cold case attorney collaborates with child welfare staff to identify approaches that may not have been considered. In many cases, the attorney will convene a permanency roundtable.
- Twenty percent of cases reviewed have resulted in permanency within a year, and 30 percent of children and youth achieve permanency within 2 years.
"Missouri’s Multidisciplinary Approach to Child Welfare Systems Transformation" (Allison Green, special assistant professional and Foster America Fellow, Missouri Children's Division)
- The Missouri Children’s Division implemented three initiatives to support child welfare and court collaboration:
- Court partnership teams identified ways to improve the court processes.
- The Permanency Initiative hired and trained attorneys in child welfare topics so that they can provide “zealous representation.”
- They prioritized parent engagement, including plans for a statewide parent advisory board, expanded Parent Cafés, and amplified engagement with noncustodial and nonresident parents.
Working With the Courts for Permanency (Child Welfare Information Gateway)
- This webpage shares resources to help child welfare agencies and courts collaborate to achieve permanency for children.
Brain Frames: How Attorneys Can Engage Youth in Case Planning and Court Hearings (Annie E. Casey Foundation)
- Provides tips to help legal professionals successfully engage youth in court hearings by encouraging them to do the following:
- Understand the importance of family and continue to talk with youth about their questions and concerns about permanency.
- Advocate for school stability, encourage youth decision-making, and promote normalcy for youth.
- Communicate respect, acceptance, and support.
- Provide youth opportunities to discuss their feelings about what is happening.
Engaging and Involving Youth: Court Processes (Child Welfare Information Gateway)
- This webpage compiles resources to support meaningful involvement of youth in their court hearings.
Here’s HOPE for Restorative Practices in Child Welfare System (Melissa Green)
- Explores the concept of restorative justice as applied to child welfare.
- Reviews how the Florida Bar Foundation HOPE Project intends to utilize restorative practices and community building with older youth.
How Adolescent Brain Science Supports Youth Engagement in Court Hearings and Case Planning (American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law)
- Explains the three R’s: regulation, relationships, and rewards, which represent the parts of the brain that are most active and rapidly changing during adolescence.
- Provides tips to apply the three R’s into court processes and the attorney/youth relationship, including the following:
- Provide adequate time for youth to make thoughtful decisions.
- Meaningful engagement supports youth brain development and growth.
- Advocate for youth to maintain healthy relationships.
- Focus on reward-based learning and advocate for opportunities for youth to make mistakes without punishment.
Unadoptable Is Unacceptable: Removing Legal Barriers to Permanency for Older Youth: A Guide for Legal Partners in the Child Welfare System (Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption)
- Explores common barriers and legal challenges and offers solutions and strategies that legal professionals can employ, such as the following:
- Require evidence-based recruitment efforts.
- Believe all children are adoptable.
- Prioritize permanency over placement stability.
- Support the biological family's role in permanency efforts.
- Understand children's reluctance to adoption.
- Recognize that youth are never too old for family.
Lean Project Description
Background: The Child Welfare Court Improvement Project and the New York State Office of Children and Family Services have agreed to cooperatively engage in a locally driven change management process that is grounded in improving permanency outcomes. The Lean process identifies all steps involved in expediting permanency and explores where there may be greater efficiencies. Lean originated in the world of Japanese manufacturing as a means of eliminating waste, making obvious what adds value by reducing everything else. Its end goal, which mirrors the continuous quality improvement process, is "change for the better."
Project Description: The New York State joint project aims to improve timeliness to permanency. Both data sets (child welfare and court) demonstrate significant delays in the time to permanency. The recent Child and Family Services Reviews permanency data similarly confirm what we already knew in New York. The belief is that our systems are unwittingly adding time to permanency for children and youth by way of our processes, our policies, and our everyday activities. The concept is to identify these areas of delay and eliminate them. To date, eight jurisdictions are engaged in various stages of this process.
- Identify a project team.
- Identify decision-makers to either be a part of the team or act as a vehicle for getting decisions rendered.
- Complete a project charter.
- Conduct a project training and kick-off session.
- Collect data on the identified process, which will be grounded in a process that affects timely permanency.
- Conduct a “Kaizen event,” which is a 3- to 5-day intensive work period identifying process steps and areas of potential streamlining.
- Implement identified strategies.
- Collect data and conduct ongoing monitoring and adjusting where necessary.
- One county chose to lean the process between finalization of a termination of parental rights to adoption.
- Their goal was to reduce the timeframe from 403 days to 180 days.
- Today, the timeframe is less than 180 days.
- The Kaizen event let them identify potential changes to the process that could save time.
- They modified the docketing procedure, eliminating unnecessary steps such as multiple home visits and drafts of paperwork.
- Initially the multidisciplinary stakeholders had difficulty coming to a shared goal and hypothesized delays were the result of someone else or another reason that was out of their control.
- Mapping the process step by step at the Kaizen event illuminated the real causes of delays and put the finger pointing to rest.
Dallas Permanent Managing Conservatorship Court Data Project Description
Background: In Texas, a child or youth who enters foster care is in the managing conservatorship of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Those in conservatorship for longer than 12 to 18 months transition to the permanent conservatorship of the State until they achieve permanency. In Dallas County, TX, a specialized Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) court launched in December 2018 and started hearing cases in March 2019. In less than 1 year, the court held 849 hearings and helped 58 youth attain positive permanency.
Project Description: After attending a permanency workshop through the Capacity Building Center for Courts, the Texas team identified a project to focus on examining the specific judicial practices in the PMC court, comparing the outcomes of this court with outcomes of other courts within the jurisdiction and around the State and identifying best practices that promote and secure permanency. During the first year of operations, the PMC court was focused in large part on developing court processes and creating buy-in from various stakeholders on the need for the specialized court and specialized judicial practice. Data are input and collected from the Child Protection Case Management System (the case management system used by the court) and the DFPS IMPACT (Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System) system to inform the project. A goal of the project is to establish the utility and value of certain judicial practices to promote permanency for children in long-term foster care and to evaluate the efficacy of the PMC court model. In addition to focusing on and utilizing judicial practices to impact permanency, the project will also explore agency practices that impact youth engagement and well-being. The overall goal of the project is to develop and document data-driven guidance to support the funding, statutory structure, and establishment of PMC courts across Texas.
- Utilize youth engagement and youth voice:
- Use of video
- Off-bench visiting
- Conference time with a judge
- Focus on well-being while in the court and after achieving permanency
- Conduct hearings every 3 months, with a change to monthly meetings beginning 90 days before the child turns 18.
- Have a holistic view of the case and permanency.
- Drive accountability for all stakeholders (e.g., relatives, family members, agency, youth, attorneys) through judicial leadership.
- Establish collaboration and communication between the court and agency to address community barriers.
- Continue to drive toward positive permanency options despite barriers and get creative.
- Extend foster care when needed for positive outcomes.
- Utilize specialized courts in order to allow the Judge to become an expert about foster care.
- Engage in trauma-informed court practices.
The following are judicial practices identified as having the greatest positive impact on adoption:
- 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 nonpermanent placement.
- Have candid discussions about adoption with older children.