Comment to Petition to Amend Rule 41, Rules of Procedure for Juvenile Court
The petition to amend Rule 41 of the Rules of Procedure for the Juvenile Court would require children who are the subject of a dependency proceeding to be present at all hearings, except upon a written court order excusing a child from any or all hearings, for good cause shown, as well as require the Court to determine whether counsel for the child had meaningful contact with the child prior to every substantive hearing.
Children’s Action Alliance (CAA) is a non-profit, non-partisan research, education and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the well-being of Arizona’s children and families. We were partners with the Pew Charitable Trusts on a number of initiatives to improve the voice of foster children in the dependency court process. The work of the Pew Commission for Children in Foster Care is cited in the purpose and background statement in support of the proposed Rule. CAA’s work included two publications: (1) Getting From Here to There: A Guide to the Dependency Court for Children and Youth in Foster Care (January 2007) See: http://www.azchildren.org/MyFiles/P...dency.pdf.
This publication focuses on providing foster youth with information including their rights and responsibilities to advocate for themselves in the dependency court process. (2) Hearing Their Voices: Children and Their Legal Representation in the Dependency Court (February 2008). See: http://www.azchildren.org/MyFiles/P...oices.pdf.
This publication focuses on the practices of the juvenile courts and foster children’s legal representatives (i.e. attorneys and guardians ad litem) in the dependency court process. This research publication concluded that there is great variation around Arizona in how current court laws, rules and guidelines are applied for children and that some children are not receiving adequate legal representation or the opportunity to voice their own wishes in the court process. A number of recommendations were made to the Arizona Supreme Court, Juvenile Court Judges and the Department of Economic Security to improve these circumstances.
CAA is supportive of the concepts expressed in the proposed court rule. We are concerned, however, in its implementation.
We do believe that legal representatives should have regular meaningful contact with the children they represent and with the children’s caregivers and other team members working on behalf of the children. We believe that judges should personally know the children that they have responsibility for and whose lives depend on their decision-making; and we wholeheartedly, encourage children of all ages to attend court hearings. However, we are concerned that dependency courts throughout Arizona are not equipped to expeditiously handle these cases. It is a well known fact that foster children often fall far behind others in their school success; and school success enables children to have more positive outcomes as adults. Taking children out of school to attend court hearings is worthwhile if that court experience is positive and the child’s absence from school is minimized.
It is therefore extremely important that scheduling of timely court hearings as well as space and equipment (e.g. age-appropriate furniture/chairs) to handle children of all ages should be in place in each court setting prior to the adoption of this pending court Rule. In order to accept and implement the proposed Rule, the Arizona Supreme Court should assure that each county’s dependency court have in place a calendaring system that schedules and holds hearings generally on time. There should be no allowance for scheduling multiple hearings at the same time (for example, all morning hearings at 9 am, and all afternoon hearings at 1 pm), or for scheduling court hearings when parties and legal representatives are double or triple booked on multiple different cases; thus delaying court proceedings sometimes by hours.
The impact of such court delays has negative consequences for children as they would miss more of the school day than necessary. Court hearing delays also negatively impact the precious time resources of children’s case workers and caregivers who oftentimes transport children. Case workers and caregivers can and should encourage children’s attendance at court hearings, but they may not always do so if their own court experiences are not positive. Long waits in the court halls would, in the end, discourage children from attending court hearings rather than giving them the incentives and encouragement to do so.
Director of Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice
Children's Action Alliance
4001 North 3rd Street, Suite 160
Phoenix, Arizona 85012
602-266-0707, ext. 206