Foster Care Proceedings

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Rule 404: Permanency Hearings.

(a)   Review of Previous Orders/Recommendations by Court.  Prior to the beginning of a permanency hearing, the court shall review previous ratification orders, periodic progress review orders, and foster care review board recommendations.

(b)  Purpose of Hearing.  The court shall explain on the record the purpose of the hearing.

(c)  Testimony.  The court shall receive testimony from the parties related to the following:

(1)  Whether the Department’s efforts to assist the parent or child in complying with the statement of responsibilities are reasonable based on the Department’s prioritization of the outcomes and corresponding action steps in the statement of responsibilities in the permanency plan;

(2)  Whether the parent or child is in substantial compliance with the statement of responsibilities in the plan;

(3)  If the child is able to communicate, the child’s views on the provisions in the plan;

(4)  Whether the independent living plan or transitional living plan is designed to assist and prepare foster youth in making the transition from foster care to adulthood by providing opportunities to obtain life skills for self-sufficiency, independence, and permanency;

(5)  If the youth is seventeen years old, testimony from the Department regarding extension of foster care services available to the youth at the age of eighteen and testimony from the youth as to whether the youth understands the available services;

(6)  Whether the proposed permanency goals and timelines for achieving the goals are in the best interest of the child; and

(7)  Whether barriers exist to successfully achieving the proposed permanency goals, and if services are needed to eliminate the barriers.

(d)  Reasonable Efforts Finding as to Goal.  At the conclusion of the hearing, if the goal on the existing permanency plan is to return home, the court shall make fact-specific findings as to whether the Department has provided reasonable efforts for the child to return home safely. If the plan contains a goal other than return home, the court shall make fact-specific findings as to whether the Department has provided reasonable efforts to place the child consistent with the specific goal. If the permanency plan contains concurrent goals, the court shall make reasonable-efforts findings as to both goals.

(e)  Hearing for Youth Seventeen Years or Older Prior to Release from Department.  A permanency hearing shall be held 3 months prior to the release from foster care of a youth who is 17 years or older. The court shall hold an evidentiary hearing on the transition living plan and review the plan to ensure the plan sufficiently addresses the following, if applicable:  support person or system, education, employment, health needs, information on available benefits through other agencies, available transportation, youth has received all essential documentation including government issued identification, and any special factors.

(f)  Youth Planning to Accept Extension of Foster Care.  At the permanency hearing to approve the transition plan for a youth who plans to accept extension of foster care, the court shall set a hearing date within 60 days of the youth’s eligibility for extension of foster care for the purpose of confirming the voluntary placement agreement and ratification of the transition plan.

(g)  Bifurcated Permanency Hearing and Ratification Hearing.  If, in addition to the permanency hearing, the Department requests the court also ratify a new permanency plan, the permanency hearing and ratification hearing on the new plan shall be bifurcated with the permanency hearing occurring first.

Advisory Commission Comments.

A permanency hearing is a separate and distinct hearing from the ratification and periodic progress review hearings. The purpose of the permanency hearing is to decide upon the final permanency outcome for the child. In determining the final permanency outcome, the court is to review the compliance of all parties and decide on a final permanency outcome for the child that is in the child’s best interest. The court must outline a specific timetable and plan for the child to return home or to achieve another permanency goal, if returning home is not in the child's best interest.

In order to make a decision regarding the final permanency outcome of the case, the permanency hearing must be bifurcated from any ratification hearing on a new permanency plan. The decisions made during the permanency hearing dictate the contents of a new permanency plan. The permanency plan that is ratified after a permanency hearing should not be a revision of a previous plan. Rather, it should be a detailed and comprehensive schedule that charts the child's final path to permanency subsequent to the permanency hearing.

At the beginning of the hearing, the court must determine if all necessary persons are present pursuant to Rule 112. All children are required to attend the permanency hearing pursuant to T.C.A. § 37-2-409, except any child under a doctor’s care who is prevented by the doctor from attending, a child placed outside the state, or a child on runaway status. The court should consider allowing a child who cannot attend because of the first two exceptions to participate by another means as prescribed in Rule 112. The court must hear directly from the child on the child’s views on the provisions in the plan. When receiving testimony from the child, the court shall comply with the provisions of Rule 306.

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