Shelter Care Hearing
The shelter care hearing is held within 72 hours of when emergency custody was assumed. The purpose of this hearing is to determine where the child should be placed for the next 10 days while the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau conducts their investigation into the allegations of why the child was removed. This hearing can be held in front of the Hearing Master or the Judge. If the child was removed due to abuse allegations, the hearing will be held in front of the Judge. The parents have the right at any time to request the hearing be heard of the Judge.
The Adjudication and Disposition are generally held at the same time, but on occasion they may be held separately. This hearing is to determine if the child should be an adjudicated dependent which means the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau will retain custody of the child. The Disposition is to determine where the child should be placed – with relatives (kinship), a foster home, a group home, or a residential placement facility. This hearing has the potential to be a lengthy hearing with many witnesses if the parents and the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau do not reach an agreement beforehand. This is the hearing where the CASA program can be appointed.
90 Day Conference
The 90 Day conference is not a formal hearing, but rather a status check to make sure services are put in place. This is also a time to hear from the parents to determine if the right services are in place or if additional services need to be added. If there are any barriers to the parents receiving services, this is also a time for that to be addressed. General services include drug and alcohol treatment, mental health treatment and parenting classes.
Permanency Review Hearing
A review hearing is held every 6 months to check on the status of the case. The purpose of this hearing is to check on the permanency goals along with the compliance and progress of the parents. Review hearings continue to be held every 6 months until the children are reunified with their parents or adopted. A CASA report is required for every review hearing and is due 2 weeks prior to the hearing. The CASA may or may not be asked to testify.
Reunification can occur at any review hearing if the parents have made substantial progress.
FAST TRACK TERMINATION HEARING
If the parents have not made significant progress in 15 out of the past 22 months, then the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau will file a petition to terminate the parental rights. A Fast Track Termination Hearing is then scheduled to allow the parents to consent to the termination or to contest the termination. If the parents contest their rights being terminated, then a full Termination Hearing is scheduled for a future date. This hearing has to be held in front of the Judge. A CASA report is required for this hearing and is due 2 weeks in advance.
The Termination Hearing is typically a full day hearing in which the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau puts on testimony as to why the parents rights should be terminated. The Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau calls many witnesses who testify as to their involvement from the beginning of the case. The parents then have the right to provide testimony and witnesses as to why their rights should not be terminated. The CASA volunteer may or may not be called to testify. This hearing has to be held in front of the Judge. The CASA may be asked to update their previous termination report.
The Adoption Hearing is scheduled when parental rights are terminated and the appeal period has passed. The caseworker provides brief testimony as to why they believe the child should be adopted. The adoptive parents also provide testimony as to why the wish to adopt the child. If the child is 12 years or older they will also provide testimony as to why they wish to be adopted. No CASA report is due for this hearing, but the CASA volunteer is present.