Court Report Writing - pg. 3

Assessments



In the third section CASAs provide the factual information on which they base their opinions and recommendations. This section should contain only the facts that were found during visitations, interviews, and research since the last court report. Behaviors, situations, and important information from reviewed materials are also to be described. All information should be given with its source and can include direct quotes from the people interviewed. Quotes must be correct and not taken out of context.

This section should contain descriptions of the CASA's visits with the child and the interviews with people about the case. Descriptions should include the child's placement, development (emotional and physical), academic work, and any services received. The CASA should also address the services that have been provided to the parents. Descriptions should not include the address of where the child is staying or the last name of the foster parents. Services should be explained by the type offered, how often the child receives the services, who is providing the services, and the results of the services.

For the child's academic needs, court reports should address how the child is doing in school. Note any changes, positive or negative. Also, the report should contain descriptions of any learning disorders or special needs that have or have not been met, including the services offered for these special needs.

The Assessment Section must address a CASA's experiences with the parents of the child. Visitations with the child are to be described, how well the parents and child interact, and any services that are needed by the family to allow the child to be returned home, if appropriate.

Court reports must be objective. Any statements or observations must be supported by factual information, witnesses, and quotes. Without a basis in fact, assessments can be challenged as being biased and uninformed. Court report descriptions should also be as short and direct as feasible. Important details cannot be left out, but clear descriptions do not need redundancy.

See following example:


Assessment

James Ducats, child -- case plan: Family Reunification

James' behavior has been deteriorating since he was removed from his mother. Initially after removal he was quiet and reserved. Now he regularly throws tantrums and refuses to listen to his foster parents. He will openly oppose whatever his foster parents ask him to do. James' attitude has gotten to the point were his current foster parents have asked for his removal. Personal interviews with the previous foster family and the current foster family confirm the personal observation that James' behavioral and emotional states get worse after each parental visit. Dr. Melrondur (James' therapist) attributes this to James' fear that he will never be returned to his mother. The doctor believes that James' tantrums and disobedience are efforts to make people put him back with his mother.

Mr. Woodbury (James' teacher) states that James is reserved in class. He does well in his coursework, but does not get involved with any other children during recess or during group activities. I asked James why he does not get involved and his response was, "Why make friends when I'm leaving here soon?"

I have been present during two parental visits by Ms. Walden and one with Mr. Ducats. James brightens up when his mom arrives. He always asks her when they get to go home together. Ms. Walden also seems very happy to see her children. They interact well and the children seem very happy to spend time with their mother. James does not interact much with his father, spending most of his time talking to his mom. James and Mr. Ducats will play catch with a football together.

During my visits with James he does not seem to understand why he was taken from home. He misses his mom and his friends and wants to return home. James appears indifferent about his father and was not concerned about only seeing him once during his removal.

Karen Ducats, child -- case plan: Family Reunification

Karen told this volunteer she was frightened by her removal from home. She does not understand why she does not get to see her mom every day. As a result she spends as much time as she can with her brother. When they are apart she is restless and appears tense. Once James arrives home from school, Karen is by his side. As James' behavior has deteriorated so has Karen's. She uses her brother as a role model and copies his poor behavior. When James gets upset with things, Karen picks up on this and has started throwing tantrums.

During the parental visits Karen sits in her mother's lap. When they play a game Karen insists on being next to her mother and reaches out to touch her frequently. When the visits end Karen cries as her mother leaves. Karen has no contact with Mr. Ducats and does not even seem to notice he is in the room. Her focus is totally on her mother.

Karen prefers to be with her brother during my visits. I have met with her several times though before James returns from school. In my one-on-one visits with Karen she is shy and reserved. She misses her mother and really wants to go home. She draws family pictures and items from her home. She talks about how much she liked playing with certain toys and being put in bed by her mother. Mr. Ducats is noticeably absent from her drawings.

Carl Ducats, infant -- case plan: Family Reunification

Carl has been doing well in his current placement. Since there were no relatives to take Carl he has remained at the first foster home that took him in on the night he was removed. Elaine and John (foster parents) report that Carl is eating fine and is a well-behaved infant. Carl makes eye contact, faces, and smiles when someone holds him. He is not irritable and is easily soothed when upset.

Carl's mother has supervised visits with him each week. She holds him in her arms, talks to him, caresses him, and he giggles, coos, and laughs when she speaks to him.

Lisa Walden, birth mother

Ms. Walden resides in a one-bedroom apartment. She works a full-time job to earn money to raise her children. On the night her children had been removed Lisa was finishing an out-of-town weekend job for Mr. Smithe. Lisa is a model employee who Mr. Smithe says he would have a difficult time replacing.

Lisa has attended all ten of the parenting classes that had been arranged for her. She told her case manager that she has learned Donald really cannot be responsible enough to watch after the children. Prior to the children's removal, Lisa had arranged with a friend to care for the children while Lisa was at work. Donald had agreed to watch the children on the weekend of May 7th. He did not show up. Donald and Lisa do not live together.

The visits between Lisa and her three children have been very emotional. She cares about the children's well being and asks them what they have been doing since their last visitation. The older children run to their mother when she arrives. Prior to her arrival the children fidget and repeatedly ask when she will be arriving. Lisa interacts very well with all of her children. When the whole family gets together, Lisa will converse with Karen and James while holding Carl.

Donald Ducats, birth father

Donald Ducats is the father of all three children. Donald and Lisa have been dating on and off since shortly after they graduated high school. During a supervised family visit I noticed that Donald is very standoffish towards the children. He pays no attention to Carl, answers Karen's questions with short or one syllable answers, and only gets involved with James to throw balls around. Donald attended only one of the ten parenting classes that were arranged for him.

Donald told the case manager that he was supposed to be looking after the children on the weekend that they were removed from home. He did not show up on Friday because he worked late on a neighbor's car and "forgot to check on the kids." Saturday he went to an afternoon ball game and then went out celebrating the victory with his friends. Sunday morning he was feeling too bad to leave his apartment.



Reasonable Effort



The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1990 requires that "reasonable efforts" be made to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of a dependent, neglected, or abused child from the child's home and to reunify the family if the child is removed.

Reasonable Effort: 1) to keep family together; 2) to reunite families; 3) to enable a child to have some other permanency plan.

The reasonable efforts requirement is designed to ensure that families are provided with services to prevent unnecessary disruption and foster care drift. To enforce this provision, the juvenile court must determine whether the required reasonable efforts have been made.

In the forth section of the court report, CASAs are to address several issues with respect to reasonable efforts.

This section should contain a brief description of the case plan. It should also include any progress made and obstacles to fulfilling the case plan. If there is a separate permanency plan, it must also be described along with its progress and obstacles. The reasonable efforts section should include explanations of any services being recommended and provided to the parents and child. This explanation must state whether the services are being completed, if they are having success, and any obstacles to the success of the services provided.

Arizona Revised Statutes 8-522(E) gives CASAs the authority to determine if reasonable efforts have been made. Supportive information is to be included to substantiate the CASA's judgment. This information should come from either the Assessment Section observations or the reports from experts about how well or poorly the services have been offered and received. The CASA must clearly state an opinion regarding reasonable efforts. If they are unsure whether reasonable efforts are being made, that should also be stated.

See following example:


Reasonable Efforts

The case plan is to reunite the children with their biological mother, with a target date of 11/17/05. CPS has identified and assigned a parenting course to the biological parents. The mother has attended all ten of her course meetings and participated in each session. The father attended only one course and did not participate during the discussions. James has been provided with therapy to address his emotional and behavioral problems. His behavior has not improved, but Dr. Melrondur has told me James should dramatically improve once he is returned to his mother. CPS has successfully provided services and support to the family during the removal process. The only exception is Mr. Ducats, but it was his own choice not to participate in the services. Reasonable efforts have been made.


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