Foster Care Proceedings
(a) Purpose of Ratification Hearing. The court shall explain on the record the purpose of the hearing.
(b) Notification of Parties. The court shall verify all parties have been properly served. In the event a party’s whereabouts are unknown and the party could not be notified of the ratification hearing, the court shall determine the Department of Children’s Services’reasonable efforts to notify the party of the contents of the permanency plan. If the court finds the Department has made reasonable efforts to notify the party of the contents of the plan, then the court shall proceed with the ratification of the plan.
(c) Review of Permanency Plan. The court shall review the permanency plan for each child in foster care. In reviewing the permanency plan, the court shall address the following:
(1) Whether the parties participated in the development of the plan and are in agreement with the provisions of the plan;
(2) Whether the permanency goals are appropriate, and if a concurrent goal is needed;
(3) Whether the plan includes outcomes and corresponding action steps for each permanency goal;
(4) Whether the child’s placement is safe and appropriate;
(5) Whether the child’s well-being is appropriately addressed through health, education and independent living skills if applicable;
(6) Whether the visitation schedule is sufficient to maintain the bond between the child and parent, and the child and siblings, who are not residing in the same placement; and
(7) Whether the statement of responsibilities for each party are reasonably related to remedying the conditions that necessitate foster care or prevent the child from safely returning home.
(d) Inclusion of Recommendations of Foster Care Review Board. If a foster care review board hearing has occurred prior to the ratification hearing, the court shall review the recommendations of the board. If the board’s recommendations are in the best interest of the child, the court shall incorporate the recommendations into the plan.
(e) Evidentiary Hearing. An evidentiary hearing shall be required to ratify the plan if the following occur:
(1) The parties do not agree on the provisions of the plan;
(2) The guardian ad litem objects to the provisions of the plan; or
(3) The court determines the Department has not prioritized the outcomes and corresponding action steps for each party in the statement of responsibilities.
(f) Agreement – Modification. If the parties are in agreement to the provisions of the plan and the plan is found to be in the best interest of the child, or at the conclusion of the hearing, the court shall ratify the plan upon making fact-specific findings pursuant to T.C.A. § 37-2-403. If the court modifies the plan, and a party is not present at the hearing, the court shall direct the Department to make reasonable efforts to notify the party of the modified provisions of the plan.
(g) Abandonment Criteria. The court shall explain on the record the law relating to abandonment and the possible consequences of termination of parental rights.
(h) Rights of Party Not Served. The court may issue a temporary order ratifying the plan. Such order shall be without prejudice to the rights of any party who has not been served with the original petition. If a party was not served, the court shall set a hearing within 60 days to determine whether the Department has conducted a diligent search.
(i) Findings – Order. The court shall make fact-specific findings pursuant to T.C.A. § 37-2-403 and shall enter an order within 30 days of the hearing.
Advisory Commission Comments.
Permanency planning is the process of carrying out within a time-limited period a set of goal directed activities designed to help the foster child live with a permanent family. The permanency planning process requires the juvenile court to identify a permanency goal and oversee the implementation and modification of the permanency plan for each child in foster care. The permanency planning process includes, but is not limited to, the ratification hearing, periodic progress review hearing, foster care review board hearing and permanency hearing.
The purpose of the ratification hearing is for the court to review the permanency plan for the child prepared by the Department and approve the plan if it is in the best interest of the child. The permanency plan becomes an order of the court once ratified and should outline the responsibilities of each party to achieve one or more specific goals for the child. If court determines the permanency plan is not in the best interest of the child, the court should order that the plan be modified accordingly. In determining whether the permanency plan is in the child’s best interest, the plan is to be reviewed by the court as described in subdivision (c) and T.C.A. § 37-2-403.
A ratification hearing is held to approve the initial permanency plan and all subsequent permanency plans. The initial permanency plan must be ratified within 60 days of the date the child is placed in foster care, except as provided in T.C.A. § 37-1-166. A subsequent plan must be ratified within 12 months of the original plan if the child remains in foster care. T.C.A. § 37-2-403.
The ratification hearing is separate and distinct from a periodic progress review (previously termed judicial review) or a permanency hearing. At the ratification hearing the court is not determining the compliance of the parties to the plan; it is reviewing the plan being presented for ratification and determining if the plan is in the best interest of the child.
T.C.A. § 37-2-403 provides that the permanency plan should be reevaluated and updated annually. However, new plans should be submitted to the court for ratification more frequently when the priority of responsibilities change, new facts are discovered which prevent the child from safely returning home, or there is a change in the goal on the plan. After the initial permanency plan is ratified, a subsequent permanency plan presented to the court for ratification should not be a duplicate of the initial plan. The subsequent plan should reflect the changes that have occurred in the child’s case since the ratification of the prior plan.
A child adjudicated to be delinquent or unruly is a party to the proceeding and should attend the ratification hearing, as well as all hearings associated with permanency planning. Also, a child alleged or found to be dependent and neglected who is 14 years of age or older, should attend the ratification hearing, as well as all hearings associated with permanency planning.
Subdivision (d) provides that the court include in the permanency plan the recommendations of the foster care review board if the court finds the recommendations to be in the best interest of the child.
Subdivision (e) requires that an evidentiary hearing be held if the parties do not agree or if the guardian ad litem objects to the permanency plan. In addition, if the Department has not prioritized the outcomes and corresponding action steps for each party in the statement of responsibilities, an evidentiary hearing must be held and testimony presented regarding the priority of responsibilities. The reason for this requirement
is that when the court does review compliance of the parties at the periodic progress review or permanency hearing, the court is required to determine the weight assigned to each action step in order to determine whether the Department has made reasonable efforts and whether the parent is in substantial compliance.
If the parties are in agreement to the permanency plan, the court must also find that the plan is in the best interest of the child. This may be done without an evidentiary hearing.
Subdivision (g) requires the court to explain on the record the law relating to abandonment, pursuant to T.C.A. § 37-2-403(a)(2)(B).
Subdivision (h) provides that, if a party has not been served with the original petition, the court may enter a temporary order ratifying the permanency plan without prejudice to that person’s rights. The court must schedule a hearing to determine whether the Department has conducted a diligent search. Absent parties, especially parents, should be included as soon as possible in the child’s case in order to prevent a delay in permanency for the child.