PA 08-86—sHB 5926

Judiciary Committee

Human Services Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING FAMILIES WITH SERVICE NEEDS

SUMMARY: This act makes a number of changes in the laws governing families with service needs (FWSN) children. These are children under age 16 (or, beginning January 1, 2010, under age 18) who have run away without good cause, are truant or beyond control of their parents or school authorities, or engaged in certain forms of sexual or immoral conduct.

The law authorizes juvenile court judges to place FWSN children under the supervision of a juvenile probation officer or commit them to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and to issue orders setting conditions they must meet. The act:

1. makes information obtained about potential FWSN children receiving diversionary services confidential;

2. specifies that judges can modify or enlarge a FWSN child's conditions of supervision, conforming law to existing practice;

3. requires motions alleging that a FWSN child (a) has violated a court order or (b) is in imminent risk and needs to be placed in a staff-secure facility to be served on parties in the same manner as authorized for serving FWSN petitions;

4. sets clear and convincing evidence as the standard judges must use to determine whether a FWSN child (a) has violated a court order or (b) should be committed to DCF after release from a staff-secure facility; and

5. consistent with federal law, requires DCF to develop permanency plans for FWSN children committed to its care, with yearly court reviews.

The act also extends the sunset law applicable to the FWSN Advisory Board from July 1, 2008 to July 1, 2010 and makes minor, technical, and conforming changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2008, except the sunset date for the FWSN Advisory Board is effective upon passage.

4 — CONFIDENTIALITY OF PROBATION ASSESSMENTS AND EDUCATION EVALUATIONS

The act appears to extend existing confidentiality provisions concerning mental health screening and assessments in juvenile matters to information obtained in the course of providing voluntary services or educational evaluations involving children who would otherwise be the subjects of FWSN court petitions. Under this law, information can be used only for planning and treatment.

It can be further disclosed only (1) for the purposes of court-ordered evaluations, treatment, or services for the child; (2) under mandated child and elder abuse reporting statutes; or (3) pursuant to Judicial Branch disclosure policies and procedures the chief court administrator sets. It cannot be subpoenaed for use in any other proceeding or for any other purpose.

2 — MODIFYING AND ENLARGING SUPERVISION CONDITIONS

The act allows juvenile courts to modify or enlarge supervision conditions at any time during the period a FWSN child is subject to supervision. They must first hold a hearing and find good cause for doing so. This authority extends to conditions the court originally imposed in the FWSN proceeding or otherwise. Copies of orders modifying or enlarging supervision conditions must be delivered to the child, the child's parents or guardians, and probation officer.

3 — SERVICE

The act requires motions concerning alleged violations of FWSN orders or the need to place a FWSN child in a staff-secure facility to be served in the same manner required for serving FWSN and delinquency petitions. The law directs that service include a copy of the motion or petition and a summons to appear in court signed by the judge. It must be made by (1) personally delivering a copy or leaving it at the person's usual place of abode; (2) certified mail, return receipt requested; (3) first class mail; or (4) if other methods fail, by newspaper publication. Service may be made by those legally authorized to serve process, such as judicial marshals, probation officers and aides, or other indifferent people.

3 — FWSN ORDER VIOLATIONS

By law, children who have been accused of violating valid FWSN court orders are entitled to legal counsel and an evidentiary hearing. The act specifies that the court must apply the clear and convincing evidence standard to determine whether the violation occurred. This is the same standard it must apply in making its initial determination that the child is a FWSN child.

The law prohibits placing FWSN children in detention or adjudicating them as delinquents for violating FWSN orders. One option that courts have is ordering them to remain in their homes or in the custody of a relative or other suitable person, subject to supervision by a juvenile probation officer. The act also allows the courts to order that the child remain in the home or under a relative's or other suitable person's custody, subject to an existing DCF commitment.

3 — STAFF-SECURE PLACEMENTS

By law, courts can order FWSN children to be placed in staff-secure facilities for up to 45 days upon a finding of probable cause that (1) the child is in imminent risk of physical harm from his or her surroundings or other circumstances, (2) immediate removal is necessary to ensure the child's safety, and (3) placement in a staff-secure facility is the least restrictive alternative available. At the end of the placement, courts must order that they either be returned to the community for appropriate services or committed to DCF for up to 18 months. Prior law did not set standards for determining when a DCF commitment was the appropriate disposition.

The act specifies that staff-secure placement is only an option for FWSN children currently under orders of supervision or DCF commitment. It eliminates use of this type of placement when a child has been adjudicated as a FWSN child, but the court ordered a different disposition, or when the period of supervision or commitment has expired.

Under the act, FWSN children cannot be committed to DCF after a staff-secure facility placement unless the court holds a hearing and finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that:

1. the child is in imminent risk of physical harm from the child's surroundings;

2. as a result, the child's safety is endangered and removal from these surroundings are necessary to ensure the child's safety; and

3. commitment to DCF is the least restrictive alternative available.

The act specifies that when these children are returned to their communities following the placement, they are still subject to court-ordered supervision or commitment conditions.

PERMANENCY PLANS

Federal law and regulations require DCF to create permanency plans for status offenders, such as FWSN children, who have been committed to its care. The act codifies this requirement, creating planning requirements and court review procedures that mirror those currently applicable to children committed to the department under its delinquency and child protection mandates.

The act requires the first court permanency hearing to be held no later than 12 months after the commitment, with annual reviews as long as the child remains committed.

At least 60 days before the hearing, the DCF commissioner must file the permanency plan with the court. The plan may include the goal of:

1. revoking the commitment and placing the child with a parent or guardian,

2. transferring guardianship,

3. permanent placement with a relative, or

4. adoption.

Court Review

Courts must review and approve permanency plans, if they are in the best interests of the child and take into consideration the child's need for permanency. The court may order some other planned permanent living arrangement if it finds that the commissioner has documented a compelling reason why it would not be in the child's best interests to set one of the permanency goals listed above. The act specifies that other arrangements may include placing the child in an independent living program.

The act also requires the court to make a finding at each permanency hearing as to whether the commissioner has made reasonable efforts to achieve the permanency plan's goals.

BACKGROUND

Staff-Secure Facilities

Staff-secure facilities are residential facilities:

1. that do not include construction features designed to physically restrict the movements and activities of residents and

2. in which the movements and activities of individual juvenile residents may be restricted or subject to control for treatment purposes through the use of staff supervision.

They may have reasonable rules restricting entrance to and exit from the facility.

FWSN Advisory Board

Public Act 06-188 established the FWSN Advisory Board and directed it to:

1. monitor the progress made by the Court Support Services Division of the Judicial Branch and DCF in developing services and programming for children and youth from families with service needs and addressing problems unique to girls in the juvenile justice population;

2. monitor the progress being made by the Judicial Branch in eliminating the use of detention for FWSN-order violators;

3. provide advice with respect to implementation upon request of the Judicial Branch or the General Assembly; and

4. make written recommendations to the Judicial Branch and the General Assembly with respect to the accomplishment of implementation of Public Act 05-250, no later than December 31, 2007.

Its membership includes legislative, judicial, and executive branch officials and juvenile justice advocates.

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