CHILDREN IN COURT STANDARDS Standard 1: Children in Court cases are a priority Children in Court cases shall be administered with priority. All family docket types are important, but these cases require much closer monitoring. Standard 2: Children in Court Advisory Committees A Children in Court Advisory Committee comprised of key child welfare stakeholders shall be maintained in each county to encourage planning and coordination necessary at the county level. At least quarterly meetings shall be convened and chaired by the lead CIC judge. A statewide Children in Court Improvement Committee shall be maintained to encourage planning and coordination necessary at the state level. Standard 3: Prompt representation of defendants in Children in Court cases Prompt representation of defendants in Children in Court cases is a primary objective. This is accomplished by a defendant, who is not already represented by counsel, completing an application for legal representation, known as a 5A application. An initial determination of indigency shall be made by the judge or court staff. Processing of such 5A applications shall be expedited and coordinated with the Office of the Public Defender. At the earliest possible point in the case but no later than the date of service of the Complaint and Order to Show Cause on the defendant, a 5A application shall be served on the defendant. Standard 4: Notices for court hearings and notification to county prosecutor The court must ensure that notices for all court hearings are provided to all necessary parties and interested persons, including resource parents. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.25, court staff shall provide a copy of the abuse or neglect complaint to the county prosecutor’s office promptly after filing. Standard 5: Required judicial findings on an initial order of removal When a child is removed or sought to be removed from the home by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), the judge must make a finding whether it is contrary to the child’s welfare to remain in the home and whether DCPP has made reasonable efforts to prevent placement. If the court finds that reasonable efforts to prevent placement were not required, the court shall make the required findings pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-11.2. All findings shall be case specific, on the record and memorialized on the approved court order. Standard 6: Advisory notice to parents of the potential consequences of noncompliance At each court event, judges should orally advise parents of the potential consequences of noncompliance with the court-ordered plan for services and reunification. These consequences include the possibility that their rights as parents could be terminated and their child(ren) freed for adoption. All court orders in abuse or neglect cases shall include the following advisory notice: THE FAILURE OF THE DEFENDANT(S) TO COMPLY WITH ANY PROVISION OF THIS ORDER OR THEIR CONTINUING FAILURE TO APPEAR MAY RESULT IN THE FILING OF A COMPLAINT BY DCPP TO TERMINATE THE DEFENDANT(S)’ PARENTAL RIGHTS TO THE CHILD(REN) NAMED IN THIS COMPLAINT. A TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS WOULD FREE THE CHILD(REN) FOR ADOPTION. All court orders in termination of parental rights cases shall include the following advisory notice: THE FAILURE OF THE DEFENDANT(S) TO COMPLY WITH ANY PROVISION OF THIS ORDER OR THEIR CONTINUING FAILURE TO APPEAR MAY RESULT IN A DEFAULT ENTERED BY THE COURT AND TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS. Standard 7: The standard for fact-finding hearings in abuse or neglect cases Fact-finding hearings shall be resolved in every abuse and/or neglect case within 120 days if the child has been removed from the home and within 180 days if the child remains at home. The standard of proof for abuse or neglect cases is that findings be made by a preponderance of the evidence. However, if the record supports a finding by clear and convincing evidence, the court should so state in its findings. The fact-finding hearing will be conducted if the litigants have not stipulated to some or all of the allegations in the complaint. Standard 8: Child Placement Review Boards shall act as an arm of the court Child Placement Review (CPR) Boards shall act as an arm of the court. A. For children in placement through Title 9, Title 30 or FJ or FF proceedings where there is DCPP involvement, CPR boards shall only review their cases once at an “enhanced 45 Day Review.” All additional reviews of these children’s cases shall be conducted by the court until permanency has been achieved. B. For children in voluntary placement through independent living or residential placement agreements, CPR Boards shall conduct regular reviews at the 45th day after placement, at the permanency hearing within 365 days of placement and at least annually thereafter. The court shall enter an order containing required findings under the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) at the Initial 15 Day Review. A CPR Board’s annual reviews shall constitute permanency hearings and shall result in the preparation of permanency orders to be reviewed and signed by the CIC judge. The court shall review CPR Board findings and may schedule summary hearings at its discretion. Standard 9: Encouragement of Children in Court case processing continuity To the extent possible throughout the Children in Court case processing, from initial removal to permanent placement or reunification, the same judge shall be assigned to the case providing for quality case management, more informed decisions and continuity for the child. This assignment should be complemented by a case team consisting of Deputy Attorney General, Law Guardian, parents’ attorney, the DCPP Local Office case worker, CASA volunteer, if applicable as well as court staff who perform calendar coordination and who will work with the judge’s office staff to ensure that all relevant and necessary information is provided to the judge. Standard 10: Annual permanency hearings A permanency hearing for all children in out-of-home placements shall be conducted by the court within 365 days of the placement date. CPR boards shall conduct permanency hearings for children in voluntary placements in accordance with Standard 8. Reports to the court and counsel from DCPP shall be written and submitted in advance of the hearing. Standard 11: Court Appointed Special Advocate programs The creation, role and function of a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in each county should be promoted by vicinage Judiciary leaders. Standard 12: Timely filing of a termination of parental rights complaint When the court has approved the permanency goal of termination of parental rights, the complaint should be filed within 45 days of the permanency hearing. At the permanency hearing, a return date should be scheduled to ensure that the complaint has been filed, defendants have been served, defendants have completed a 5A application, and the FN litigation has been closed, when appropriate. Standard 13: Same-day court orders Court orders should be completed and distributed to the parties and counsel on the same day before they leave court. Approved court orders should be used at all times. Standard 14: Annual statewide training for Children in Court team staff Annual statewide training regarding the principles of case management, to be arranged by the AOC, shall be provided for all team leaders and key team members. Standard 15: Children in Court case processing procedures manual A case processing procedures manual for handling Children in Court cases should be maintained, regularly updated and distributed to all court staff and judges. Standard 16: Appeals of termination of parental rights matters (a) A standard form evidence list (CN 11554) shall be used to document trial exhibits submitted for identification or introduced into evidence. (b) Absent extraordinary circumstances, the decision by the trial court, whether written or oral, shall be rendered at the conclusion of the termination of parental rights trial, but in no event later than 14 days after the trial concludes. If the decision is not rendered at the conclusion of trial, the trial judge shall advise all parties of the date and time for delivery of the opinion and require their presence. At all hearings following the trial, the court will advise the defendants that they have certain rights, including the right to appeal. (c) A standard form of judgment or order shall be signed by the judge on the day of the decision and same shall be provided to all parties and counsel. This judgment or order shall include all trial dates, the names of all witnesses who testified, the dates on which they testified and by whom they were called. It shall also include the date(s) on which any parent surrendered his/her parental rights. The judgment or order shall also contain an attachment listing all exhibits introduced into evidence during trial, by party. (d) After the parties are given a copy of the judgment or order, the court shall immediately thereafter advise the parties of their right to appeal and that, effective September 4, 2012, the appeal must be filed within 21 days of the entry of that judgment or order. The Advisory Notice to Parents and Counsel When Parental Rights Are Terminated (CN 10317) has been revised to be consistent with this standard and amended R. 2:4-1(a), which will go into effect on September 4, 2012. The trial court shall ensure that the Acknowledgment of Appeal Rights (CN 11553) has been executed. The trial court also shall begin using the revised Advisory Notice to Parents and Counsel When Parental Rights Are Terminated (CN 10317) and the new Acknowledgment of Appeal Rights (CN 11553) on September 4, 2012. (e) If any party indicates a desire to appeal a termination of parental rights judgment, the court shall direct that party’s trial counsel to file the notice of appeal and to provide the trial court and the parties with a filed copy of same. The notice of appeal shall include a transcript request form and a copy of the order or judgment on appeal, and any other required documents. (f) If a party or attorney requests additional time, the court may adjourn the matter for up to 14 days and shall direct trial counsel to continue to represent the party until such time as the notice of appeal has been filed or until the party has decided not to appeal the judgment. Until it has been determined that the notice of appeal has been filed or that the party does not wish to appeal, the FG litigation should not be terminated and trial counsel should not be released from the case. (g) It shall be the obligation of the appellant’s trial counsel to provide the appellate counsel/section with copies of all exhibits when filing the notice of appeal. At the time of trial, the Division shall be required to submit two hard copies of all the trial exhibits. The trial court shall maintain the exhibits for a minimum of 90 days after entry of the judgment or order and until the final disposition of the appeal. Technological solutions should be explored to expedite the distribution of trial court exhibits and a pilot program should be implemented to evaluate the feasibility of those solutions. Standard 17: Procedures to ensure efficient practices following termination of parental rights trials and/or proof hearings Following the completion of a Termination of Parental Rights case where a Judgment of Guardianship has been issued, the court shall set a return date within 90 days to review the status of each child. When adoption is the goal, the purpose of the summary hearing is to track the status of the filing of an adoption complaint. Subsequent summary hearings before the court shall be held at least every 90 days, or less frequently in the judge’s discretion, until such time as the adoption complaint is filed. For those children whose case goal is no longer adoption, the court shall schedule a summary hearing within 90 days. The focus of the summary hearing shall be on eliminating barriers to permanency. Subsequent summary hearings before the court shall be held at least every 90 days, or less frequently in the judge’s discretion, until such time as permanency has been achieved. Notice of this hearing shall be provided to the resource parent. The Deputy Attorney General and Law Guardian are required to be present for the hearings. A Court Appointed Special Advocate, if assigned, shall provide a report to the court and counsel at least one week before the hearing and may attend the hearing. The child also may attend the hearings at the court’s discretion.