So…court is one of those things that, at least for us, there was not really much talk about before or while we were getting licensed.
Oh sure…I might have heard a foster parent say, “They had court today.” But for whatever reason I didn’t really dive in to find out more about what that looked like, how often it happened, when I could/should go to a court hearing, etc.
And based on this quote from a current foster mom (not to mention from conversations with other foster parents), I am not alone in that lack of understanding: “We’ve learned a lot about the court process but we were quite ignorant of how that all worked in the beginning.”
For me, personally, I take ownership of that lack of knowledge…and honestly only after going through it once from start to finish do I kind of see the whole picture. But I don’t want that for you, so without further ado, here is a “typical” plan for court hearings (always subject to change or adjustment):
Initial Hearing (to explain the reason for removal)
- Pre-trial Hearing (basically when the biological parents get their lawyers)
- Fact finding/CHINS Hearing (when the court proves children need to be in care; this usually happens 1-3 months after removal)
- Dispositional hearing (often referred to as Dispo and it is usually not long after the CHINS hearing; this is where DCS makes their recommendations for services needed for the biological parents, and the judge orders those services. These services could include, but are not limited to drug testing, visitations, parent therapies, parenting classes, attending appointments for the child, etc.)
- Periodic Placement Reviews (these are approximately every 3 months and include updates from DCS, the GAL, and are an overall review of how the case is going; at these hearings, the judge may increase or decrease visitations, may suspend or add services as needed, etc.)
- Permanency Hearing (approximately 12-18 months AFTER the Dispositional Hearing; at this hearing, the plan *may* be changed to concurrent or adoption depending on evidence provided, or the plan may stay the same).
- If the plan is not changed at the Permanency Hearing, then they continue with periodic placement reviews until something else happens to force a change.
- If the plan is changed at the Permanency Hearing, then TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) is filed.
- TPR Initial Hearing (this should occur within 90 days of filing of TPR)
- TPR Pretrial (not entirely certain for the purpose on this hearing)
- NOTE: the biological parents sometimes attend mediation with foster or kinship placements (a meeting in which the parents willingly sign over the rights to the child and an agreement is reached for post adoption contact). This makes the TPR trial unnecessary. If biological parents will not willingly sign, then they move forward with the TPR trial.
- TPR Trial (this is supposed to happen within 180 days of filing the court filing TPR. This is THE BIG ONE and all parties present evidence on why or why not parental rights should be terminated. This could include the foster parents giving a testimony.)
- If parents lose the TPR trial and rights are terminated, then they may file an appeal which has additional court dates; if they lose the initial appeal, they can appeal beyond that to the State Supreme Court.
- If the parents sign over rights OR rights are terminated and they choose not to appeal (or lose all the appeals), the final hearing in the case is the Adoption Hearing.
I know this probably seems like a lot of information (and if you’ve not been through it, it definitely is!), but hopefully this gives you a general idea of what to expect in terms of court hearings, or at least it gives you a source to which you can refer as you’re walking through it.