When and How Courts Determine Permanent Living Situations for Children in Dependency Cases

The dependency process may start suddenly, usually instigated by a phone to the child abuse hotline, but once it is initiated, there are a set number of steps that occur to determine where and how a child can best be cared for in the long term. The first big milestone in any dependency case is a decision from a judge that the child in question is a dependent of the state. This designation opens up a number of services for the child and the child’s family, while also obligating the state to fulfill certain responsibilities. Ultimately, though, the pivotal moment of a dependency case comes down to two options – reunification with the child’s family or permanent placement with another guardian. The complexity of this system was highlighted in a recent article in the Palm Beach Post that discussed dependency proceedings for immigrant children. Specifically, it looked at disagreement in the legal community about whether to handle immigrant children with no guardian as dependents of the state or as subjects of deportation. While these children are a small subset of those investigated for abuse, neglect or abandonment, it still illustrates how crucial each decision in this process is to the overall outcome. The most important decision by a court for any child removed from the home is the permanent living arrangements of the child based on the outcome of an investigation.

When a Decision on Permanency Occurs

Making the decision on the permanent living situation of a child in foster care is given high priority in any dependency proceeding, and consequently, there are mandated timelines as to when this topic must be addressed. The clock starts ticking once the child is removed from the home, and a permanency hearing must be held no later than 12 months from the date the child was removed, or within 30 days once a court determines returning the child to either parent is not possible, whichever happens first. Additionally, a new permanency hearing must occur every 12 months for children under continued supervision of the Florida Department of Children and Families or awaiting adoption.

Permanency Hearing

The purpose of the permanency hearing is to assess when the permanency goal will be achieved, or if modifying the goal is necessary under the circumstances. The following are the permanency goals that may be considered listed in order of preference:

  • reunification with a parent;
  • adoption, if a petition to terminate parental rights was or will be filed;
  • placement with a permanent guardian;
  • permanent placement with a relative; or
  • placement in another planned living arrangement.

Since the best interest of the child is the primary consideration in dependency cases, the court must also factor in the wishes of the child if the child is mature enough to express a reasoned preference and any recommendations of a guardian ad litem.


The permanent placement is intended to last until the child becomes an adult and will only be altered under two circumstances: if a court finds this situation is no longer in the best interests of the child, or a parent, who has not lost parental rights, petitions for reunification or increased contact with the child.

Consult an Attorney

Of course, no parent wants to find him/herself sitting through anything like a permanency hearing, but if you are facing a dependency case, this is an integral part of the process. Since a permanency hearing is but one component of the complex dependency process, working with a knowledgeable attorney is key to getting your child back. Stok Kon + Braverman, in Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach has the necessary experience to represent you in the fight for your child. Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation.