When a juvenile has been placed in legal custody of the Division, the court must hold dispositional review hearings. During the first year after removal, dispositional review hearings must be held at least every 90 to 120 days. A permanency hearing must be held within one year after removal and annually thereafter. Section 210.720.1. Thereafter post permanency review hearings must be held as often as necessary, but at least every 6 months. Section 211.032.4 and Rule 119.01c.
Evidence to be considered by the court at the review hearing includes:
(1) whether a case plan has been approved and whether the parties are in compliance therewith.
(2) Whether there is a continuing necessity for placement.
(3) Whether the placement continues to be appropriate.
(4) Whether any existing case plans should be modified.
(5) Whether the possibility exists of establishing a date by which the juvenile may be returned to a parent, guardian or relative or by which termination of parental rights proceedings may be commenced.
(6) Such other factors as are relevant to the needs of the juvenile.
Written notice of each review hearing shall be given to the juvenile, the custodian(s) and the guardian ad litem at least 10 days preceding the hearing. Rule 119 requires that the juvenile officer give written notice of the next hearing at the conclusion of the previous hearing. If such notice is given, mailed notice is not required to such party receiving notice of the next hearing at the conclusion of the previous hearing. Rule 119.01d.
The permanency hearing is held for the purpose of determining, in accordance with the best interests of the child, a permanent plan for the placement of the child, including whether or not the child should be continued in foster care, returned to a parent, guardian or relative, or whether proceedings should be instituted to terminate parental rights to free the child for adoption.
In permanency hearings, the court must consider all relevant factors including the interaction and interrelationship of the child with the foster parents, parents, siblings and other persons who may significantly affect the child’s best interests, the child’s adjustment to the foster home, school and community, the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved, and the needs of the child for a continuing relationship with the child’s parents and the ability and willingness of the parents to actively perform their function as parents of the child. Section 210.720, RSMo.
Under ASFA, the court must adopt a permanency plan which is the most appropriate permanency plan for the child. Permanency under ASFA is either:
(2) termination of parental rights and adoption,
(4) placement with a fit and willing relative, or
(5) a planned, permanent living arrangement. It should be noted that independent living is not a permanency plan and is not recognized as such by ASFA. Independent living is a service which should be provided to all children in care because it is the duty of the caretaker to help prepare each child to live independently.
A permanency hearing must be held within 30 days after any determination by the court that DFS is no longer required to make reasonable efforts to reunify the family.
A petition to terminate parental rights must be filed at any time when the child has been in foster care for fifteen of the most recent twenty-two months (unless a statutorily authorized exception excuses the mandatory filing), within 60 days of a judicial determination that the child is an abandoned infant, or within 60 days of a judicial determination that DFS is not required to make reasonable efforts to reunify the family.
Annual permanency hearings are required until the child is either adopted or until a guardianship is finalized. Placement with fit and willing relatives without adoption or a planned permanent living arrangement are not considered final permanency options under ASFA and the court must continue to hold annual permanency hearings if either of those options are utilized.
The planned, permanent living arrangement option under ASFA must be based upon a compelling reason demonstrated at a permanency hearing, and the court must hear compelling reasons at each permanency hearing.
The regulations adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services interpreting ASFA give specific examples of compelling reasons for a permanency plan other than reunification, adoption, legal guardianship or a permanent placement with a relative. Some examples given by ASFA regulations as constituting compelling reasons to place the child in a planned, permanent living arrangement are:
(1) an older teen who specifically requests that emancipation be established as his permanency plan;
(2) a parent and child with a significant bond, but the parent is unable to care for the child because of a disability and the foster parents have committed to raising the child to the age of majority and to facilitate visitation with the disabled parent, or
(3) an Indian Tribe has identified another planed permanent living arrangement for the child. These are not intended to be exclusive but demonstrate the narrow parameters allowed under ASFA for utilizing the planned, permanent living arrangement instead of reunification, adoption, legal guardianship or permanent placement with a fit and willing relative.
Relatives must be given foster care placement unless a court has determined that placement with the relative is contrary to the best interests of the child. Relative is defined as a person related to another by blood or affinity within the third degree. Section 210.565. If the court finds placement with the relative contrary to the child’s best interests, the court is required to make specific findings on the record detailing the reasons why the child should be placed with persons other than relatives. Also, age of the relative is not to be the only factor considered in the placement decision. Section 210.565.
Section 211.037 requires that a child be promptly returned to a ”non-offending parent” if a preponderance of evidence shows that only one parent is the subject of an investigation, and if the non-offending parent has no history of criminal behavior, substance abuse, child abuse or neglect, domestic violence, stalking, full orders of protection within the past five years, and provided the offending parent is either not in the home because the parents live separately, or the offending parent has been removed from the home and the non-offending parent agrees to cooperate, and in fact complies with court orders.
Note that no child may be reunited with a parent or returned to a home in which the parent or any person residing therein has pleaded guilty to, or been found guilty of, certain crimes including certain sex crimes. Sections 210.117, 211.038, 452.375 and 452.400, RSMo.