Child welfare update topic of Luncheon Lecture -Tom Fruechtenicht speaker

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By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

The Family Division of the Ingham County Circuit Court includes the areas of "abuse and neglect of children and juvenile delinquency," Tom Fruechtenicht said to the group of lawyers enjoying lunch and listening at the State Bar of Michigan on October 20th. The luncheon is part of the series of lectures sponsored by the Ingham County Bar Association.

An abuse and neglect cases begins with the Michigan Department of Social Services filing a petition with the court. A preliminary hearing is held at which it is decided "if one or more of the allegations in the petition are true, would the matter come within the child protection law, and, if so, what custody of the children should be. The matter is then set for a pre-trial."

"Those cases are usually resolved by a plea," he said, "and the matter is set for a disposition. At disposition, orders are entered telling the parents what it is the court wants them to do in order to have the children returned, if removed, or in order to have the court's jurisdiction terminated. The idea under the law is to identify the problems, put services in to correct the problems and to return the children home and then dismiss the case."

"After disposition, periodic reviews, required under Federal and State law, are held. The primary reason for the reviews, held within 180 and 364 days, is to assess progress and to keep Federal Title 4(e) funding, which provides states with money to assist with the costs of children in foster care." At the hearings, a permanency plan is created, which can be "reunification with the family, a guardianship, placement with a fit and willing relative, emancipation, or adoption."

"The point is we don't want kids lingering in foster care for a long time." The law requires that a permanency planning review be held within 364 days of removal. The question at that hearing is "whether there will be a substantial risk of harm to the physical health and mental well-being to the children if returned to the parents. If the answer to that question is yes, then the question is should parental rights be terminated?"

Parents can have a trial on a supplemental termination petition or can agree to termination.

"Ultimately the goal is to try to find some kind of permanency for the children. That does always mean return home or adoption. With older children, if we are lucky, we can find an appropriate relative who can provide a permanent home with emancipation a goal."

It is also possible to establish a "juvenile guardianship," which has funding--"there is money available for these subsidized guardianship" which will help the family financially.

In Ingham County Family court, the judges hold the pre-trials, trials and dispositions; the referees hold the other hearings. Attorneys who wish to be on the appointment list for neglect and abuse cases must be on the delinquency appointment list for five years before they can apply. "unless you have some special skills in your background."

Family court also handles delinquency matters. The case begins with police contact. The police report to the prosecutor who then presents a delinquency petition to the court. The court will then hold a preliminary hearing for the more serious offenses or a preliminary inquiry for such matters as shop lifting. Preliminary inquiry is not usually on the record. About 56% of the cases begin as informal.

The standard in the law as to whether or not to file a petition, have a formal hearing and appoint an attorney is "whether it is in the best interests of the juvenile and society." There is a lot of discretion around that decision. This usually happens when a child is detained.

If the matter remains informal, the child is asked to abide by certain conditions such as a letter of apology or pay restitution. The matter is dismissed when the conditions are met and there is no record for the child.

If the matter is more serious, there is a probable cause hearing and then it is decided whether to detain the child. The next step is a pre-trial and then a trial, if necessary. "Most cases plead out."

The last step is the disposition.

When a juvenile comes within the jurisdiction of the court, there are a variety of options. Ingham

County can issue a 'custody order,'which says that the juvenile can be placed in detention, on tether or on in-home detention if they do not follow the terms and conditions of probation. This can be done without a hearing.

Ingham county provides the following options for the juveniles:

* The Pride program, an aftercare program

* The Ingham Academy, the court's own school funded with a millage. It is for kids who have been expelled.

* There is a community placement program that allows kids to remain at home with supervision.

* The court also has a truancy court.

* We have two court psychologists and a social worker to work with children and families.

Tom Fruechtenicht was in private practice for twenty years prior to accepting a position as attorney referee with the Family Division of the Ingham County Circuit Court. He was appointed Chief Attorney Referee in 2004 and is past president of Ingham County Bar Juvenile Section. He can be reached at:

The next Luncheon Lecture will be held on November 3rd at the State Bar Building at noon with "Part One of the Phil and Bill Show: A Constitutional law update."

Published: Thu, Oct 28, 2010

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