In 2016, Florida and three other states were selected to participate in a national project called Reimagining Dependency Courts. Florida’s dependency court improvement team in the Office of Court Improvement, working with the National Center for State Courts and Casey Family Programs on this project, decided to pilot a new dependency problem-solving court model called Permanency Dockets.
Two large jurisdictions—Broward County and Palm Beach County—both with strong judicial leadership in place, were selected for this pilot. Multidisciplinary teams from each site worked collaboratively to develop this pilot program, which will focus on long stayers in care (children who have been in out-of-home care for 18 months or longer). Teams from each site reviewed data to identify sub-populations on which to focus. Next, core components were drafted based on other problem-solving court models, such as drug court and early childhood courts. This differentiated case management approach to a targeted dependency court population with complex needs fits nicely within the overarching framework of Florida’s fully integrated family court.
Draft core components:
- Judicial Leadership – Each court team requires the leadership of a local judge who because of his/her unique position of authority is a catalyst for change. A judge in each jurisdiction will also be willing to preside over a specific problem-solving court docket for the long stayers in care.
- Permanency Coordinator – This position will be responsible for assisting in the development and implementation of the permanency docket to ensure continuity and fidelity to the permanency problem-solving differentiated case management model. The permanency coordinator will assist in identifying barriers that have prevented permanency and will coordinate services and resources for the long stayers in care.
- Identification – Identification of children’s cases that have languished in the court system for 18 or more months is pivotal for the project. The Office of Court Improvement will use its case management system, the Florida Dependency Court Information System (FDCIS), to work with the local clerk to identify relevant cases for the docket.
- Monthly Hearing – A monthly review hearing will be held to provide intensive oversight in these cases. Permanency Docket sites will schedule the monthly hearing two weeks after the monthly Permanency Roundtable meeting. This process will ensure that permanency planning and activities are taking place at a minimum of every two weeks by a team of professionals.
- Permanency Roundtables Integration – These monthly meetings are used to address permanency for children who have been in out-of-home care for 18 months or longer. Permanency Docket Judges will follow up on any actionable items from these roundtables at the monthly hearing, which will be scheduled within two weeks of the roundtable.
- Placement and Concurrent Planning Stability – Identifying the right placement for each child is key to stability and permanence. The court team will explore the challenges involved with instability in out-of-home care placement in these cases. The permanency goals should be reviewed and considered at each hearing, and concurrent efforts should be underway to achieve permanency.
- Visitation/ Family Time – Frequent visitation increases the likelihood of reunification and reduces the time children spend in out-of-home care. Permanency Docket Judges will be committed to ordering individualized, frequent, creative, and meaningful visitation schedules.
- Continuum of Services – An array of evidence-based services designed to increase the likelihood of permanency within a short time frame should be considered. To meet these needs, each court team will identify specific services applicable to the long stayers in care and develop a tailored continuum of services to address this target population.
- Training and Technical Assistance – The National Center for State Courts, Casey Family Programs, and the Office of Court Improvement will provide training and technical assistance to the court team. Topics may include permanency roundtables, case plan conferencing, service identification and linkage, and case plan task alternatives specifically designed for the long stayers in care.
- Evaluation – Each court team will work with the Office of Court Improvement and its partners to collect and measure data on permanency outcomes for this population. This process will begin with a readiness assessment, which can also serve as baseline data for the project.
Both jurisdictions will begin their permanency dockets in 2017.
Publications and Resources
This webpage, hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides a variety of strategies to help youth achieve legal permanency, including the use of permanency roundtables, a defining feature of permanency dockets.
Using the Florida Dependency Court Information System as well as data analyzed by consultants with Casey Family Programs, the Office of Court Improvement identified 1,938 children who were in out-of-home care for 18 months or longer across both pilot jurisdictions.
Florida Supreme Court Governance Groups
The Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Court works to establish a fully integrated, comprehensive approach to handling all cases involving children and families. The steering committee is charged with assisting the statewide multidisciplinary dependency court improvement panel – the panel that oversees this project.