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Journal Issue: The Juvenile Court Volume 6 Number 3 Winter 1996

Responsibilities and Effectiveness of the Juvenile Court in Handling Dependency Cases
Mark Hardin


The juvenile court's role in handling child abuse and neglect cases changed and expanded greatly after the passage of the federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act in 1980 and following the enactment of many similar state laws. These federal and state "permanency planning" laws require child welfare agencies to make reasonable efforts to avoid the break-up of families, where safe and practical, and direct the courts to monitor these efforts. The laws also require both agencies and courts to establish timely permanent new homes for children when preservation of families is not possible.

The effectiveness of juvenile courts in fulfilling the laws' mandates has been uneven because of variations in judicial workload, court management, and relationships between the courts and the child welfare agencies. The quality of legal representation of children, parents, and agencies is often compromised by high caseloads, low status and pay, lack of experience, and rapid turnover. Courts vary in their capabilities to monitor agencies' permanency planning efforts and in their power to order specific placements and services. The proper role of the court and the agency in this regard is a matter of continuing debate. The author concludes that efforts currently under way in the states to reform the juvenile court's handling of abuse and neglect cases are cause for optimism.