Permanency doesn’t mean permanent?

CourtroomNope, not in the case of juvenile proceedings. A lot of people may hear there’s going to be a permanency hearing and think, “Whoa, this is going to decide the future, forever.” That’s really not the case though, at least not most of the time.

A permanency hearing is something the court schedules every six months while a child is in care. It comes after the case is opened, adjudicated, and passes disposition (when a child becomes a ward of the court). At permanency the court hears all about the child and how the parents are doing with their services. This is when professionals’ opinions are examined (the counselor, group leader, parent coach may write letters giving their opinions), a caseworker report is read, and CASA submits a detailed report as well. Permanency does not open a case and cannot take away a parent’s rights.

So then what is permanency? Permanency is mainly for three things. Like at every other time in the case it is to check in on the child. Is he or she okay? How is the child developing? Is the child having struggles that could be better addressed by any of the parties? What is the child like now? Has he learned new words or started stringing sentences together? Maybe she got to take a trip with her foster family and went camping for the first time. Secondly, permanency exists to see if the parents are making efforts. This means they have begun services; individual counseling, domestic violence groups, couple’s therapy, etc. Have they gone to most of the scheduled classes? Do they turn in work when asked? Have they agreed to and shown up for their drug drops? All of this and more goes into considering whether or not a parent has made efforts. Finally, the court considers whether or not the parents are making progress. Progress is tricky and many factors are looked at before a decision is made. Even if a parent completes 100% of drug drops but many of them are dirty, progress is not being made. Even if a parent attends 100% of visits but fails to respond to their child’s cues (knowing what kind of discipline is appropriate, feeding a child when he/she is hungry, knowing suitable language to use to direct the child) then progress is not being made. If a parent attends parenting class, graduates, and then is successfully able to parent their child using without using violence then progress is probably being made. If a parent is able to attend counseling, get whatever mental health issues may be present under control, and shows an understanding of his or her diagnoses then progress is most likely being made.

What happens if parents aren’t found to have made efforts and progress at permanency hearings? That’s when the permanent, permanent decisions start getting made. If a parent is found to have made no efforts, no progress for a nine month period then any of the parties can ask for a goal change. This means one or more persons would be asking the court to consider changing the goal from return home to something else, like substitute care pending termination of parental rights or independence. This means changing the goal so that a hearing can be had to decide if a child ever will reunite with a parent.

Sometimes, on happy days, permanency is also when a case closes. If the child has been able to have frequent, non-traumatic unsupervised visits (often overnights) with a parent who has completed all services then this is a time when CASA and DCFS will make recommendations for the case to close and CASA to be discharged. We’re always so happy to see a family healthy and reunified!

So is permanency permanent? Maybe, a little, and sometimes. Permanency is one step on the way to helping a child find stability whether it is back in the family home or with a new forever family.

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