Courts across the country have established specialized court programs for infants and toddlers receiving child welfare services, and this response is sometimes referred to as "baby court." Pierce County has a program like this called the Best for Babies Program designed to ensure that infants and toddlers entering foster care receive support and services to help ensure safety, well-being, and an environment that supports early brain development. This program provides:
Child Welfare (Dependency) Court Proceedings.
Anyone, including the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), may file a petition in court alleging that a child should be a dependent of the state due to abuse, neglect, or because there is no parent, guardian, or custodian capable of adequately caring for the child. These petitions must be verified and contain a statement of facts that constitute a dependency and the names and residence of the parents, if known.
When a child is taken into custody, the court is to hold a shelter care hearing within 72 hours. The primary purpose of the shelter care hearing is to determine whether the child can be immediately and safely returned home while the dependency case is being resolved.
If a court finds the need to maintain a child out of the home, the shelter care status remains until a dependency fact-finding hearing is held or the parties enter an agreed order of dependency. The fact finding must be held within 75 days after the filing of the petition, unless exceptional reasons for a continuance are found.
If a court determines that a child is dependent, the court will conduct periodic reviews and make determinations regarding the child's placement, the provision of services by the DCYF, compliance of the parents, and whether progress has been made by the parents.
The DCYF must develop a permanency plan within 60 days from the date that the DCYF assumes responsibility for the child which must identify primary outcome goals for the case. The DCYF must submit this permanency plan to the parties and the court at least 14 days before a permanency planning court hearing. A permanency planning hearing must be held in all cases where the child has remained in out-of-home care for at least nine months, but no later than 12 months following out-of-home placement.
Under certain circumstances after a child has been removed from the custody of a parent for at least six months pursuant to a finding of dependency, a petition may be filed seeking termination of parental rights.
Superior courts are authorized to establish early childhood court programs to serve the needs of infants and toddlers who are dependent and under age 3 at the time the case enters the program. Early childhood court programs are defined as a therapeutic court that provides an intensive court process for families with a child under age 3 who is dependent.
A case may remain in the early childhood court program after the child is age 3 or older if the child is still dependent.
If a superior court creates an early childhood court program, it must:
Judges who preside over early childhood court program hearings must participate in required training, including:
Subject to amounts appropriated, the Administrative Office of the Courts shall perform, or contract for, an evaluation of the early childhood court program to ensure the quality, accountability, and fidelity of the programs' evidence-based treatment.
Any early childhood court program currently in operation must have a reasonable time to adjust its practices to comply with the bill.