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Dependency Court – A Team Approach Presen Presented by: Judge Brantley S. Clark and Carol A. Dunaway, M.S.
OBJECTIVES • Learn why a dependency case is filed with the court • Identify all the possible participants in a dependency case • Define the role of the clerk in dependency court • Identify the tools a clerk should have to assist the Judge in court • Outline the significant statutory timelines for all dependency cases • Learn how dependency mediation can reduce docket size
Why is a Case Filed with the Court • It starts with a call to the Florida Child Abuse Hotline and followed by an investigation by the Florida Department of Children and Families • If a child is removed from the parent’s care for more than 24 hours, a shelter petition must be filed with the court. • Upon review of the findings, the Child Welfare Legal team will make a decision to file a dependency petition to have the child adjudicated dependent. The purpose of adjudication is for the protection of the child. • If DCF completes an investigation and determines the allegations are false or that they do not rise to the level of dependency, they will not file a case with the court and may just offer the family services in the home. • If the court finds the child dependent, the parents can either consent, admit, or deny the charges. If they consent or admit, they will enter a case plan and begin to work with DCF to complete their case. If they deny the allegations, they go to trial. m their record.
Members of the Team Judge Parents Parents’ Attorney Deputy Clerk Attorney for DCF Paralegal for DCF Community Based Care Case Manager Community Based Care Case Manager Supervisor Attorney for Guardian ad Litem Guardian ad Litem Volunteer Guardian ad Litem Case Worker Current Caregiver Relative Placement Provider Foster Parent Adoptions Coordinator THE CHILD
Clerk’s Role • Keeper of the Record – Clerk is responsible for ensuring that all hearings are memorialized in the clerk’s case notes. Clerk’s case notes include: • who attended the hearing • what time the hearing started and ended • what type of hearing • the judge’s rulings on the issues heard • type of visitation ordered for the parents (supervised or unsupervised) • if the court gives the department discretion to change the type of visitation • if there are future court dates set
Clerk’s Role • Determining Civil Indigent Status The clerk is responsible for providing parents with an application for civil indigent status to determine if they qualify for court appointed counsel. The clerk makes an announcement to all parents in the courtroom before court begins advising parents that if they do not have a private attorney and feel they may qualify for a court-appointed attorney they must complete an application before court. Once completed, the parent provides to the clerk for review. An application fee of $50 is due within seven (7) days of completing the application. If the clerk determines the parent is not indigent, the parent can request the court review the application. If determined to be indigent, the clerk appoints the next available attorney from the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel and if that office has a conflict, the next available attorney from a list of locally approved private attorneys.
Clerk’s Role Notice of Future Hearings: After the Judge hears a case, the clerk presents the parents with a one page acknowledgment of future court-ordered hearings/ case plan conferences /or mediation. The parents sign the acknowledgement and are provided a copy. This acknowledgment is filed in the case file. Coordinating Appearance of Incarcerated Parents: The clerk is responsible for setting up appearance of incarcerated parents either by telephone for parents incarcerated in state or federal facilities or out of county correctional facilities OR by video conference if held at the local county jail. The clerk also arranges for the transport of an incarcerated parent for certain court-ordered hearings and must have an order signed by the Judge to arrange the transport. Ten days written notice (a signed order) is required for the transport to occur.
Clerk’s Role Preparation of Yearly Court Calendar The clerk works with the Judge’s Judicial Assistant to coordinate and schedule all court proceedings for the dependency docket. The calendar is typically prepared and finalized in the fall prior to the new calendar year. This calendar is a critical piece of the puzzle to ensure all statutory timeframes are met.
Clerk’s Role Review of Proposed Orders for Accuracy – The clerk reviews proposed orders submitted by the attorneys with the DCF, Parent’s Attorneys, and Guardian ad Litem Attorneys to ensure the orders reflect what the Court ordered. Tracks Orders to be Prepared by Attorneys- Ensures that orders the Court directs attorneys to prepare are prepared in a timely fashion.
Clerk’s Courtroom Tools • Copy of Florida Statutes , Chapter 39 • Current Year Poverty Guidelines Chart • Applications for Civil Indigent Status • Dependency Case Management Flow Chart • Case Notes • Court Calendar
Dependency Court Timelines • Shelter Hearing within 24 hours of removal • Dependency Petition must be filed within 21 days of the shelter • Arraignment and Shelter Review within 28 days from shelter • Adjudicatory Hearing within 30 days after arraignment • Disposition – within 15 days after arraignment hearing if parent enters a consent or admit or within 30 days from last day of adjudicatory hearing if they enter a denial • Case Plan Approval – within 30 days after arraignment • Initial Judicial Review – within 90 days after disposition hearing or from the date of case plan approval; no later than 6 months after child’s removal from the home • Judicial Review – within 6 months after the initial review and every 6 months as long as the court has jurisdiction • Permanency Hearing – within 12 months of the child placed in shelter • Petition for Termination of Parental Rights – within 60 days of permanency review if child not reunited with parent.
Dependency Mediation • Mediation can occur at various stages of the dependency process • After Shelter • After Arraignment • After Disposition • After Termination of Parental Rights Advisory Hearing
Why Mediate? • Neutral playing field • All parties around one table • Items typically discussed/negotiated are case plan tasks for the parents, adjudication, type and frequency of visitation while the child is in care • If a TPR case, issues regarding the terms of the TPR are mediated
Benefits of Mediation • Reduces the size of the trial docket • Parents are more likely to follow the terms of the mediation agreement as they had a say in the tasks versus a case plan where the terms are decided upon by the case workers. • Mediation allows for the case worker and the parent to meet on neutral ground and work toward building a rapport that will help them throughout the life of the case • Mediation of TPR cases allows for the parents to make an informed, dignified and difficult decision to terminate their parental rights in a neutral and more private setting instead of going to trial.
Who Pays for Mediation In the 14th Circuit , the dependency mediation program is funded by the local community based care organization through funds provided to each clerk in the counties within the circuit. A contract is signed by the courts, the CBC organization, and the clerk of court, who acts as the fiscal agent for the funds. Contract mediators are paid from these funds. Staff mediators are also assigned to mediate dependency cases.
Review An effective and efficient dependency court can only happen when handled with a team approach. The Judge, the Clerk and all the other team players have very important roles to play. Without the assistance of each team member along the way, especially the deputy clerk, the process would prove to be burdensome and ineffective.