Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

New Toolkits Help Juvenile Courts’ Work with Children & Families

Two new resource toolkits intended to help juvenile courts assess current practices were released today by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Children & Families Section.

A Caregiver Notice Toolkit and a Youth Engagement Toolkit will allow both court staff and child-welfare staff to review statutes and best practices and work with greater care and efficiency with the families and children involved in court cases.

“The Caregiver Notice toolkit is intended to help courts identify ways to provide notice to caregivers and obtain information from caregivers for hearings,” said Veronica Burroughs, court improvement program analyst in the Court Services Children & Families Section. “The ‘Tips for Youth in Court’ brochure from the Youth Engagement Toolkit is aimed at youth, and can be distributed by the courts, CASA/GALs, caseworkers or child attorneys. This guide helps children understand their right to be at their hearings and understand what to expect while there.”

Director of Court Services Stephanie Graubner Nelson pointed out that juvenile courts must make difficult decisions every day in cases involving abuse, neglect, or dependency – decisions that impact a child’s safety and well-being.

“These decisions can mean that a child is moved, separated from family and friends, possibly even moved to a new county, without having their voice heard in the courtroom,” Graubner Nelson said. “Ohio institutes safeguards to require advocates for children in the courtroom, such as a child’s attorney and a guardian ad litem. However, best practices recommend that the child be present and have a voice. The youth toolkit was developed to help engage children in court hearings.”

In 2006, according to Graubner Nelson, the federal government recognized the importance of the child’s voice with the passage of the Child and Family Services Improvement Act, which required that the court consult with the child, in an age appropriate way, about their permanency plan at any permanency hearings.

To further strengthen a youth’s voice in permanency decisions, the federal government increased this requirement in 2014, with the passage of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, requiring that children in a Permanent Planned Living Arrangement be asked about the desired permanency outcome at each permanency hearing.

The Caregiver Notice Toolkit focuses on communication with those who care for children when parents cannot, and should help courts gather information needed to make appropriate decisions for children and families.

“When parents are unable to take care of their children, public children services agencies rely on caregivers to step in and keep the child safe,” said Carla Carpenter, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ state child welfare director. “Caregivers can be relatives, non-relatives and foster families, but all are tasked with meeting the child’s medical, mental health, dietary, and educational needs, while also assisting with the permanency goal.

“Caregivers have extraordinarily rich information about the child’s needs, services, and daily progress. Ensuring notice is given to caregivers for every hearing and allowing the caregivers to be heard, enhances the judge’s ability to make good decisions,” Carpenter said.

In 1997, the federal government recognized the importance of the caregiver’s voice in hearings with the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which required that caregivers be notified of child hearings and that they be notified of their right to be heard at any hearing for the child.

Both toolkits provide sample forms for juvenile courts to use to work with children and caregivers to notify them of hearing dates, as well as their rights to attend and be heard at court proceedings.

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