GOVERNOR KEMP SIGNS SB 439, STRENGTHENING

CAREGIVERS IMPORTANT ROLE BY ALLOWING

IMPROVED PARTICIPATION IN COURT

PROCEEDINGS.

ON JULY 21, 2020 GEORGIA GOVERNOR BRIAN KEMP SIGNED INTO

LAW SB 439, A BILL DESIGNED BY SENATOR MATT BRASS (RNEWNAN),

TO ALLOW CAREGIVERS GREATER INVOLVEMENT IN

COURT ON BEHALF OF THE CHILDREN IN THEIR CARE. WHAT DOES

THIS MEAN IN PRACTICAL TERMS FOR FOSTER PARENTS?

SECTION 1: PARTICIPATION IN COURT PROCEEDINGS

• Juvenile court will now document in writing the participation of a caregiver

providing care for a child in foster care at each hearing or review. “Hearing or

review hearing” should be interpreted to mean any and all court proceedings or

panel review actions on the case.

THIS DOCUMENTATION WILL INCLUDE:

• If the caregiver was given notice of the hearing or review and how this

notification was given to the caregiver.

• If the caregiver is present and expresses to be heard.

• A caregiver now has the opportunity to present information about the child’s wellbeing,

health, and safety, including any changes the caregiver believes are

necessary to see a child succeed in these important areas.

• For example: A child has medical needs that require specialized help in Atlanta which is

two hours away from their residence. A caregiver can share with the court in detail the

medical needs and the attention given to these areas.

• For example: A child has been on an overnight visitation and has returned to their

caregiver describing events that may have put the child’s safety at risk. The caregiver may

share these concerns with the court.

• In addition, a summary of reports from other important people who are working

on behalf of the child’s well-being, such as physicians, counselors, psychologists,

and teachers, may be submitted to the court. (The summary is not limited to this

specific list.)

• For example: A child is struggling to make progress in school and a teacher writes a letter

describing the challenging areas.

• For example: A counselor working with the child observes the level of stress surrounding

visitation with a biological parent. The counselor writes a letter describing these

challenges and any suggestions to improve the interaction between the biological parent

and child.

• For example: A child has been in care since birth for nearly two years. Reunification is

the approaching permanency plan for the child but visitation is still limited to one time a

week, supervised. The caregiver is concerned that the child needs increased visitation in

order to strengthen the attachment to the biological parent. The caregiver can now submit

evidence addressing their concerns.

• A caregiver can now share their views about the services being provided to the

child and caregiver, including the quality, necessity, and timeliness.

• For example: A child’s transporter resigned and there is a lapse in transportation being

provided to visitation causing a delay in a weekly visit with a biological parent. A

caregiver may explain to the court why a visit was missed and the need for a new

transporter.

• For example: A child’s behavior is reflecting the trauma he/she has experienced making it

challenging for the caregiver at home. A behavior aid has been requested and approval

has been denied. A caregiver can now explain the need for this service and present

evidence as to the necessity of it.

To the extent a court resists accepting this information or making findings, caregivers

should work with the SAAG, CASA, or GAL, and child attorney to have the information

submitted.

SECTION 2: CHANGES TO PLACEMENT HEARING

NOTIFICATION AND OBJECTIONS

• DFCS must now notify the court, caregivers, and other parties in writing of

placement change 5 days in advance. This notification can now be served by

email if the caregiver receiving the notification has agreed to email notification.

• A method to file an electronic objection to a placement change of a child with the

court clerk must now be provided. The Council of Juvenile Court Judges is

charged with creating a form for caregivers to object to a placement change and a

method for filing it electronically. A caregiver does not need to be represented by

an attorney to file this electronic objection. When the objection is filed it will be

shared electronically with all other parties.

• Now, the court must consider change in placement objections filed by caregivers.

Evidence pertaining to the disagreement of moving the child can be submitted to

the Judge by caregivers.

• For example: If a therapist working with a child believes that a change in placement is

not in the best interest of the child due to the level of attachment and bonding, the foster

parent can submit a letter with professional recommendations from the therapist.

SECTION 3: PARTICIPATION IN TERMINATION OF PARENTAL

RIGHTS HEARINGS

• Juvenile court will now document in writing the participation of a caregiver

providing care for a child in foster care at each hearing or review. “Hearing or

review hearing” should be interpreted to mean any and all court proceedings or

panel review actions on the case.

THIS DOCUMENTATION WILL INCLUDE:

• If the caregiver was given notice of the hearing or review and how this

notification was given to the caregiver.

• If the caregiver is present and expresses to be heard.

• A caregiver now has the opportunity to present information about the child’s wellbeing,

health, and safety, including any changes the caregiver believes are

necessary to see a child succeed in these important areas.

• In addition, a summary of reports from other important people who are working

on behalf of the child’s well-being, such as physicians, counselors, psychologists,

and teachers, may be submitted to the court. (The summary is not limited to this

specific list.)

• A caregiver can now share their views about the services being provided to the

child and caregiver, including the quality, necessity, and timeliness.

SECTION 4: CHANGES ARE MADE IN DETERMINING THE BEST

INTEREST OF CHILDREN

• The participation elements from Section 1 are now included to determine if

Termination of Parental Rights is in the best interest of the child.

SECTION 5: CHANGES ARE MADE TO COURT HEARINGS

AFTER PARENTAL RIGHTS ARE TERMINATED

• After the determination that Termination of Parental Rights is in the best interest

of the child and if the child has been in a caregiver’s home for 12 months and

wishes to adopt the child, then the court will consider testimony and evidence by

the caregiver.

• Things the court may consider: level of attachment and bonding, the child’s

health, safety, and well-being, and anything else the court considers important.

• The court may keep these considerations of evidence closely connected to the

matters being discussed concerning the child following termination of parental

rights.

HOW SHOULD FOSTER PARENTS RESPOND TO THIS LAW?

Foster Parents should seize the opportunity to attend court hearings and speak about the

well-being of the child in their care. They are in the unique position to advocate and share

a daily picture of the child. Foster parents should begin by documenting important

information about the child. This documentation should include details about the

physical, emotional, and mental health of the child, in addition to important reports

regarding their safety and well-being. It is also important for foster parents to involve

other people, professional and relational, surrounding and supporting the child by

including their observations about the progress of the child. All of these pertinent details

can be submitted to the court. It is a good idea to thoughtfully write a statement including

these details before a court hearing in order to provide a clear understanding of what’s

happening with the child and the services being provided. Make this statement and other

evidence available to all parties present.

WRITTEN BY JENNIFER SHINPOCH, [email protected], www.brokenroadhome.com

IN PARTNERSHIP WITH TOM RAWLINGS, Director of Georgia Division of Family & Child

Services, [email protected], www.dfcs.georgia.gov