§587A-31 Permanency hearing. (a) A permanency hearing shall be conducted within twelve months of the child's date of entry into foster care or within thirty days of a judicial determination that the child is an abandoned infant or that aggravated circumstances are present. A permanency hearing shall be conducted at least every twelve months thereafter for as long as the child remains in foster care under the placement responsibility of the department or an authorized agency, or every six months thereafter if the child remains in the permanent custody of the department or an authorized agency.
(b) The court shall review the status of the case to determine whether the child is receiving appropriate services and care, that case plans are being properly implemented, and that activities are directed toward a permanent placement for the child.
(c) At each permanency hearing, the court shall make written findings pertaining to:
(1) The extent to which each party has complied with the service plan and progressed in making the home safe;
(2) Whether the current placement of the child continues to be appropriate and in the best interests of the child or if another in-state or out-of-state placement should be considered;
(3) The court's projected timetable for reunification or, if the current placement is not expected to be permanent, placement in an adoptive home, with a legal guardian, or under the permanent custody of the department or an authorized agency;
(4) Whether the department has made reasonable efforts, in accordance with the safety and well-being of the child, to:
(A) Place siblings who have been removed from the family home with the same resource family, adoptive placement, or legal guardians; and
(B) Provide for frequent visitation or other ongoing interactions with siblings who are not living in the same household;
(5) The appropriate permanency goal for the child, including whether a change in goal is necessary;
(6) Whether the department has made reasonable efforts to finalize the permanency goal in effect for the child and a summary of those efforts;
(7) The date by which the permanency goal for the child is to be achieved;
(8) In the case of a child who has attained fourteen years of age, the services needed to assist the child with the transition from foster care to independent living; and
(9) Consultations with the child in an age-appropriate manner about the proposed plan for permanency or transition from foster care to independent living.
(d) At each permanency hearing, the court shall order:
(1) The child's reunification with a parent or parents;
(2) The child's continued placement in foster care, where:
(A) Reunification is expected to occur within a time frame that is consistent with the developmental needs of the child; and
(B) The safety and health of the child can be adequately safeguarded; or
(3) A permanent plan with a goal of:
(A) Placing the child for adoption and when the department will file a motion to set the matter for the termination of parental rights;
(B) Placing the child for legal guardianship if the department documents and presents to the court a compelling reason why termination of parental rights and adoption are not in the best interests of the child; or
(C) Awarding permanent custody to the department or an authorized agency, if the department documents and presents to the court a compelling reason why adoption and legal guardianship are not in the best interests of the child.
(e) At each permanency hearing where a permanent plan is ordered, the court shall make appropriate orders to ensure timely implementation of the permanent plan and to ensure that the plan is accomplished within a specified period of time.
(f) A permanency hearing may be held concurrently with a periodic review hearing.
(g) If the child has been in foster care under the responsibility of the department for a total of twelve consecutive months or an aggregate of fifteen out of the most recent twenty-two months from the date of entry into foster care, the department shall file a motion to terminate parental rights, unless:
(1) The department has documented in the safe family home factors or other written report submitted to the court a compelling reason why it is not in the best interest of the child to file a motion; or
(2) The department has not provided to the family of the child, consistent with the time period required in the service plan, such services as the department deems necessary for the safe return of the child to the family home.
(h) Nothing in this section shall prevent the department from filing a motion to terminate parental rights if the department determines that the criteria for terminating parental rights are present. [L 2010, c 135, pt of §1; am L 2011, c 51, §6; am L 2016, c 133, §5]
The department of human services has the discretion to make permanent placement decisions, subject to review by the family court, which is authorized and required by law to determine whether the placement is in the child's best interests. 132 H. 368, 322 P.3d 263 (2014).
The family court is not required to relieve the department of human services (DHS) of its permanent custodianship over a child if the family court disagrees with DHS' permanent placement decision. 132 H. 368, 322 P.3d 263 (2014).
The federal authorities cited by the department of human services, including Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, did not condition the receipt of federal funds upon permanent placement of foster children with relatives. 132 H. 368, 322 P.3d 263 (2014).
The party challenging the department of human services' (DHS) permanent placement determination bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that DHS' permanent placement determination is not in the best interests of the child. 132 H. 368, 322 P.3d 263 (2014).
There is no relative preference in this chapter with regard to permanent placement of foster children; to the extent that the department of human services' policy directives mandate such a preference, those policies impermissibly alter this chapter and its legislative history. 132 H. 368, 322 P.3d 263 (2014).