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Memorandum of Agreement - Local Template

By Elaine Peters,2014-05-31 14:35
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Memorandum of Agreement - Local Template

    Memorandum of Agreement

A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) is used to capture how a group of people or

    agencies agrees to work together. This MOA is intended to help the key players in

    abuse/neglect/dependency court cases understand and appreciate each other‟s

    responsibilities and to determine local policies and procedures.

This MOA is entered by and between the following: [possible signatories may include

    the following and it is anticipated that not all the signatories will be directly involved in

    the development of a local MOA but may designate a representative:]

Chief District Court Judge. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina

    designates one of the district court judges as Chief District Court Judge. This judge has

    administrative duties, including assigning the judges to sessions of court and adoption of

    local rules.

Specialized Court Program Staff. Many counties participate in specialized court

    programs such as Family Court, Drug Treatment Court and the Court Improvement

    Project. Each of the programs has a local administrator to perform case management

    and/or case coordination duties related to abuse/neglect/dependency court.

Clerk of Court. The voters of each county elect the clerk of superior court for a four-year

    term. The clerk is responsible for all clerical and record-keeping functions of the

    superior court and district court, including juvenile court.

Elected Sheriff. Among other responsibilities, the sheriff is required to execute and

    make due return of all properly issued writs and other processes and has the care and

    control of the county jail.

    Director of the Department of Social Services (DSS). The DSS Director has the legislative authority to assess reports of child abuse, neglect and dependency and to take

    appropriate action to protect such children; to accept children for placement in foster

    homes and to supervise placements for so long as children require foster home care.

    Attorney for the County Department of Social Services. Attorneys who represent county departments of social services may be an in-house attorney, an attorney from the county

    attorney‟s office assigned to represent the DSS agency, or an attorney in a private firm

    that has been retained or contracted with by DSS.

    Guardian ad Litem Program Administrator. North Carolina General Statutes 7B-1200 and 7B-1201 establish the existence of the Guardian ad Litem Program, stating that local

    programs shall consist of volunteer Guardians ad Litem (“GALs”), a program attorney, a

    program administrator and necessary clerical staff. There is at least one GAL office in

    every judicial district in the state, and some districts have more than one office. Each

    district has a district administrator responsible for overseeing the program in that district.

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Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Attorney Advocate. In North Carolina, trained volunteers

    serve as GALs, but North Carolina General Statute 7B-601 requires that whenever a non-

    attorney volunteer is appointed, an attorney is appointed as well. The GAL Attorney

    Advocate serves as a partner with the volunteer GAL to represent the best interest of the

    child. Working as a team, the attorney relies on the GAL to bring to court sufficient

    evidence to support recommendations that are in the best interest of the child. The GAL

    relies on the attorney to present the evidence in a convincing manner and preserve a

    strong court record.

President of the Judicial Bar Association. Every active member of the State Bar must be

    a member of the judicial district bar where he/she resides or works. The President of the

    Judicial Bar Association is the Bar's chief executive officer and serves the public and the

    bar members by improving and preserving the administration of justice and assisting the

    North Carolina State Bar as prescribed by statute.

Director of the County Health Department. The director is the administrator of the local

    health department. The director performs public health duties and administers programs

    prescribed by and under the supervision of the local board of health.

Local Management Entity Director. Community-based mental health, developmental

    disabilities and substance abuse services are managed through a network of local

    management entities (LMEs) that cover the state's 100 counties. LME responsibilities

    include offering consumers access to services, developing and overseeing providers, and

    handling consumer complaints and grievances.

Local Superintendent of Education. The superintendent of each local school district acts

    as an official agent of the State Board of Education and has the authority to require the

    cooperation of principals and teachers so that the children may receive the best possible

    educational services.

The purpose of this MOA is to:

    ? Establish a collaborative relationship between key players in abuse, neglect and

    dependency court cases;

    ? Improve outcomes of safety, permanency and well-being of abused, neglected and

    dependent children who are in the court system;

    ? Implement evidence-based practices, best practices and promising approaches;

    ? Respond jointly to findings from state and federal program reviews and/or audits;

    ? Identify trends which impact outcomes for children and their families and develop

    responsive strategies;

    ? Engage in training activities to enhance practice in abuse/neglect/dependency

    court; and

    ? Increase timely decisions and final resolution of abuse, neglect and dependency

    cases and conduct more meaningful, thorough hearings.

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    AGREEMENT

    I. Court. The parties to this MOA agree to support the following practices and

    policies. [choose according to district needs]

    A. Judicial Specialization.

    1) Judges assigned to hear these cases should receive specialized training not

    only on the juvenile code, but in non-legal areas such as child development,

    substance abuse treatment, and the dynamics of domestic violence. 2) Judges assigned to hear these cases should receive certification from the

    Administrative Office of the Courts as a juvenile court judge. 3) Judges should be assigned to juvenile court for a significant length of time,

    preferably at least three years.

    4) All efforts should be made to ensure that the same judge will hear a child

    welfare case from start to finish.

    5) Judges assigned to these cases should commit to a thorough review of the

    child and family‟s situation at each hearing. Judges should review the

    summaries and reports prepared by the participants, ask questions and

    ensure that any tendered consent is appropriate.

The parties to this MOA agree to create a written plan addressing how

    specialized training needs will be met and how calendaring changes can be

    made to ensure judicial continuity in a case, ensure sufficient court time to

    conduct thorough hearings and ensure conformance to timeline mandates.

    B. Quality Representation of Parties.

    1) All attorneys practicing in dependency court should receive specialized

    training not only on the juvenile code, but in non-legal areas such as child

    development, substance abuse treatment, and the dynamics of domestic

    violence.

    2) All attorneys representing parents through court appointment should meet

    established qualification standards. Once admitted to the appointment list,

    the attorney should remain on the list for a significant length of time,

    preferably at least three (3) years, absent compelling circumstances.

The parties to this MOA agree to develop written qualification standards for

    attorneys practicing in abuse/neglect/dependency court and include how

    specialized training needs will be met and what scheduling accommodations

    will be made to allow attendance at such trainings. Further, the parties to this

    MOA agree to identify and correct barriers that may cause qualified attorneys to

    remove themselves from the appointment list to represent parents.

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    C. Active Case Flow Management. Case flow management includes the

    scheduling of cases within the court system, the allocation of judicial resources

    to cases and the procedures used by the court to dispose of cases.

The parties to this MOA agree to frequent and regular review of available data

    to determine the number of children in the local court system, whether timelines

    are being followed and whether agreed upon outcomes are being met. The

    parties to this MOA agree to use this data to identify and correct barriers that are

    preventing cases from having appropriate outcomes in a timely manner.

    D. Court Rules. Local court rules are an essential tool for an effective juvenile

    court system.

The parties to this MOA agree to a regular review and updating of the local

    court rules (at least annually). The parties to this MOA agree that the process of

    writing or revising court rules will be a collaborative effort by all of the key

    players.

    E. Child Planning Conferences. A child planning conference (CPC) is a formal

    meeting between court staff, respondents and community agencies with a

    neutral facilitator that occurs soon after a petition is filed in dependency court.

    The participants discuss the case history, agree upon needed services for the

    family and determine each participant‟s responsibilities.

The parties to this MOA agree to implement CPCs. The parties agree to

    develop or update local rules for scheduling CPCs, determining and notifying

    the participants, identifying the issues to be discussed and determining how any

    agreement or failure to agree is brought to the court‟s attention.

    F. Settlement and Pre-Trial Conferences. This practice brings together the

    parties and their attorneys, usually before a judicial officer to hear any motions

    and to discuss the issues in an attempt to resolve some or all of the contested

    matters, and, if resolution is unsuccessful, to determine the length of time

    needed to complete the hearing and set the priority of the hearing.

The parties to this MOA agree to develop or update local rules regarding

    discovery and sharing of relevant records such as, but not limited to, the DSS

    file and medical, mental health, educational and criminal records.

The parties to this MOA agree to develop or update local rules regarding the

    early exchange of court reports prepared by any of the parties and any exhibits

    intended to be offered into evidence.

The parties to this MOA agree to develop or update local rules regarding

    settlement and pre-trial conferences that will establish when they occur and who

    will attend.

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    G. Continuous Calendaring. At the conclusion of each hearing, the date and time

    of the next hearing is given to all parties and their counsel. This ensures that

    everyone receives actual notice and can plan accordingly.

     The parties to this MOA agree to implement continuous calendaring. At the end

    of each hearing, the presiding judge shall determine the next date and type of

    hearing that will occur and the juvenile clerk shall enter the information into

    JWISE in accordance with the Clerk‟s Rules of Record-Keeping. Further, the

    juvenile clerk shall disseminate the information, in writing, to the parties before

    they leave the courtroom.

    H. Timely Court Orders. At the conclusion of each hearing, an order or a

    memorandum of judgment from that hearing is signed and distributed to all

    parties and counsel. This ensures that everyone has the same information and

    reduces the difficulties encountered by parties attempting to follow a court order

    that is not entered in a timely manner.

     The parties to this MOA agree to develop or update local rules that ensure the

    timely drafting, reviewing and signing of court orders. The parties to the MOA

    agree to utilize various options such as the AOC form orders, local form orders,

    and memoranda of judgment to minimize the length of time between the hearing

    and the entry of the order. Further, the parties agree to develop or update local

    rules ensuring that orders not entered the date of the hearing are reviewed by all

    parties prior to submission to the presiding judge for signature.

I. Expedited Hearings. The purpose of Expedited Hearings (“Rocket Docket”) is

    to review and explore a specific issue affecting a child‟s permanent plan in a

    timely manner. These hearings do not replace statutorily mandated hearings

    and will typically last no longer than 20 minutes.

     The parties to this MOA agree to implement an Expedited Hearing docket and

    develop or update local rules regarding the types of hearings to be included,

    when the hearings occur and how notice is disseminated to the parties.

     The parties further agree to seek inclusion in the following specialized court

    programs:

A. Family Court. A major goal of Family Court is to coordinate all the case

    management of court events and service agency efforts for a single family in

    distress, in order to better serve that family and provide more consistent,

    efficient use of trial court time. Thus, in a Unified Family Court any issue

    relating to a family juvenile delinquency charges, neglect and abuse charges,

    termination of parental rights and adoptions, domestic violence, child custody

    and visitation rights, divorce and related financial issues like child support,

    alimony, or equitable distribution of property, and involuntary commitments -

    will be assigned to one case management team of judges and court staff.

    The parties to this MOA agree to pursue becoming a Family Court program.

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    B. Permanency Mediation. Specially trained neutral mediators facilitate

    resolution of child abuse and neglect issues by bringing together, in a

    confidential setting the family, social workers, attorneys, a GAL representative

    and others involved in the case.

    The parties to this MOA agree to pursue establishing a permanency mediation

    program. The parties agree to develop or update local rules establishing at what

    point in the case mediation may occur and the criteria by which cases will be

    referred for mediation, who will participate and how the participants are notified.

    C. Family Drug Treatment Court. A FDTC is a type of problem-solving court

    that works with substance abusing parents who are under the jurisdiction of the

    juvenile court due to a petition alleging child abuse, neglect or dependency. The

    parents may enter FDTC pre-adjudication or post-adjudication. In all cases, at

    the time of referral and admission to FDTC there must be a case plan for family

    reunification. Participants are provided a court-based case manager who

    ensures that the parent receives substance abuse treatment and other needed

    services.

    The parties to this MOA agree to pursue establishing a FDTC program. The

    parties agree to follow the protocol established by the Administrative Office of

    the Courts‟ Court Programs and Management Services Division for the planning,

    implementation and operation of a FDTC.

    II. Case Planning When a child enters the child welfare system, case planning is

    used by the local Department of Social Services (DSS) to achieve the goal of the

    child‟s safety, permanency and well-being. An essential tool used in case planning is the Child and Family Team (CFT). The North Carolina Collaborative for

    Children, Youth and Families endorses this definition of a child and family team:

    Child and Family Teams are family members and their community supports that come together to create, implement and update a plan with the child, youth/student

    and family. The plan builds on the strengths of the child, youth and family and

    addresses their needs, desires and dreams. Child and family teams hold structured,

    facilitated meetings which bring family members together so that with the support

    of professionals and community resources, they can create a written plan that

    ensures child safety and meets the family‟s needs. The CFT meeting concludes

    with the preparation of a „Family Services Agreement‟ that all participants are

    expected to sign. The „Family Services Agreement‟ contains the team‟s decisions

    regarding what action must be taken and/or what services are needed to assist a

    family to develop the capacity and capability to assure the child‟s health and safety

    and to meet the child‟s well being needs.

The parties to this MOA support the concept of case planning, agree to utilize CFT

    meetings as a tool for families in the abuse/neglect/dependency court system, and

    recognize the right of the family to determine who participates in each CFT meeting.

The parties to this MOA agree to develop or update local juvenile court rules to

    address the relationship between the CFT process and the legal process including

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the role of attorneys in the case planning process, the process for convening a CFT

    meeting, and when and how a „Family Services Agreement‟ is disseminated to the

    court and the parties.

    III. Collaboration. The parties to this MOA recognize and support the vital role of partnerships with each other and with other agencies and organizations in

    improving outcomes for abused, neglected and dependent children.

Further, the parties to this MOA support the concept of shared leadership.

    Environments where shared leadership and collective visioning exist are able to

    support open exchanges of information, better relationships among system

    participants, and stronger commitments to common goals.

The parties to this MOA agree to establish an Advisory Committee comprised of

    key players in abuse/neglect/dependency court cases. Alternately, an existing

    committee can be utilized or expanded to so that there is opportunity for regular

    meetings between leaders in child welfare agencies and organizations, juvenile

    court administration, and judicial officials.

The parties to this MOA further agree that the Advisory Committee will meet

    regularly not only to address administrative issues, but to develop both short and

    long term goals for the community that will improve the lives of children and their

    families.

Issues to be addressed at these meetings can include legal and administrative issues

    in the court process such as continuous examination of causes of delay and ongoing

    review of the local rules to ensure compliance with state and federal legislation as it

    relates to achieving outcomes and securing funding.

Issues to be addressed at these meetings can also include all legal and administrative

    issues related to working together with a system of care approach, for example, dual

    jurisdiction cases involving juvenile justice, mental health, school system, and/or social services, change of venue cases involving more than one county, cases

    involving challenges around confidentiality and release of information, and the

    issue of professional respect among all parties involved in the court process.

    Finally, issues to be addressed at these meetings can include non-legal and

    administrative issues such as identifying needed services within the community and

    formulating a plan to make the services available.

    IV. Training. The parties to this MOA are committed to identifying unmet training needs and increase training opportunities for all key players in

    abuse/neglect/dependency court. To attain this goal, the parties are committed to:

A. Establishing a Training Committee. The local committee will be made up of

    individuals from each discipline. The committee will elicit suggestions for

    training topics from judges, attorneys and AOC staff and use this information to

    establish a local training plan. At a minimum, the training plan will include an

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    annual training event to review legislative changes and recent juvenile appellate

    decisions.

    B. The local committee will schedule training events to maximize participation of

    everyone involved in juvenile abuse and neglect proceedings and will include

    topics that meet the individual needs of the local participants.

    C. The training committee will make logistical arrangements for each training

    event, such as arranging for adequate facilities, securing guest speakers, and

    making arrangements to offer continuing education credits for attorneys and

    social workers.

    D. The local committee will provide or identify cross-training opportunities for

    judges, clerks, attorneys, service providers, court administration and Guardian

    ad Litem (GAL) staff and volunteers to build effective relationships at the local

    level.

    V. Term of Agreement. This agreement will be effective from the date of signature.

    This agreement will be reviewed biennially.

    VI. Revisions. Revisions of this agreement may be made upon the approval of all

    signatories and shall become effective upon the date of agreement.

VII. Signatures.

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