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2009 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 14, No. 1
April 2009

NC’s Child Welfare System Focuses on the Courts

The court system has great influence on the child welfare system’s ability to achieve the outcomes it seeks. This fact was underscored during North Carolina’s most recent the federal Child and Family Services Review (CFSR), which took place in 2007. During this review evaluators expressed concern with the slowness with which termination of parental rights (TPR)—an essential precondition of adoption—is achieved in our state. The main barriers to timely TPR cited by reviewers were court scheduling difficulties, a lengthy TPR appeals process, and the reluctance of some agency attorneys, caseworkers, and judges to seek TPR, particularly for older children. In response to the CFSR, North Carolina has dedicated a portion of its federal Program Improvement Plan (PIP) to court involvement. Under the PIP, we have three court-related goals:

  1. To implement strategies to increase responsiveness to child safety issues by judges, attorneys, and other professionals.
  2. To implement strategies to achieve permanency which address court delays at all stages of the court process.
  3. To implement strategies that encourage efficiency, consistency, and child well-being for Juvenile Courts throughout North Carolina’s 42 judicial districts.

In pursuit of these goals North Carolina is engaging in a variety of strategies, including the following:

  • Cross-training judges, attorneys, court personnel, and child welfare staff to educate everyone about best practices for increasing child safety, well-being, and permanence.

  • Increasing collaboration and communication among key systems at every level. As part of this, there is now a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of Indigent Defense Services. In a letter to county DSS agencies on December 15, 2008 (CWS-67-2008), the Division also disseminated information to support the development of local level MOUs. To access this letter go to <http://www.dhhs.state.nc.us/dss/dcdl/2008.htm>.

  • Asking judicial districts to review existing local rules or create rules when none exist. Participating in this review/creation of rules is a concrete way DSS staff can be involved in working on court issues at the local level.

  • Releasing a new chapter of child welfare policy related to the courts. Chapter 10, “The Juvenile Court and Child Welfare,” can be found online at: <http://info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dss/csm-67/man/>.