Missouri Supreme Court Judge Zel Fischer and State Courts Administrator Greg Linhares presented the 18th Judicial Circuit Court with the Permanency Award on Monday at the Pettis County Courthouse.
The award is an honor given to circuits for holding timely hearings in child abuse and neglect cases. This is the sixth time the circuit has received the award, which has only been available for seven years.
“Timely hearings are always important to the effective administration of justice,” Fischer said. “When children are removed from their homes, that importance becomes even greater to determine whether it is safe to return those children to their biological parents or place them in other permanent homes. Those circuits which exert the extra effort necessary to ensure timely hearings should be recognized for their achievements.”
The hearing time frames apply to six types of hearings and vary depending on the type of hearing. When a child is taken into custody, an initial hearing must be held in three business days, the allegations must be proven in 60 days and a disposition entered within 90 days.
If the child remains in protective custody, the courts must hold periodic reviews until the child is reunited with its natural parents, is adopted or another permanent placement is made.
“What we have found is, that by setting these goals, people try to meet them,” Fischer said. “Of the 43,000 juvenile hearings that were heard this last year, 98 percent were heard on time. Some of these timelines are very short. We are very proud of this circuit as we are the entire judiciary.”
In evaluating what circuits qualify, the circuits were placed in size classes based on total number of hearings due to be held during a time. Circuits had to achieve 100 percent timeliness in each quarter or an average of 100 percent annually to qualify.
“This is a team effort,” said Associate Circuit Judge Robert M. Liston. “The efforts of the juvenile office to get cases ready and be ready to present in a timely fashion and the staff over there to make the deadlines known to everybody. The entire bar association, which realizes the importance of juvenile law and our county commission, which has funded us with a county funded guardian ad litem and attorney for the parents, without all that working together it would be very difficult to meet the deadlines.”
The award is named in relation to the courts efforts to find suitable “permanent” homes for the victims of child abuse and neglect. Sixteen judicial circuits received the award this year.