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NO. 139. AN ACT RELATING TO FOSTER CHILDREN AND ADOPTION.

(H.703)

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1. 33 V.S.A. § 5501(a) is amended to read:

§ 5501. PURPOSES

(a) The purposes of this chapter are:

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(4) to assure that the safety and permanency of children is the paramount concern in the administration and conduct of proceedings under this chapter;

Sec. 2. 33 V.S.A. § 5531 is amended to read:

§ 5531. *[LIMITATION OF TIME ON ORDERS OF DISPOSITION]* PERMANENCY

HEARING

(a) Unless otherwise specified therein an order under the authority of this chapter transferring legal custody, or guardianship over the person or residual parental rights and responsibilities of a child to an individual, agency, or institution shall be for an indeterminate period. Every order transferring legal custody, guardianship or residual parental rights over the person shall be reviewed *[one and one-half years from the date the child's custody was initially transferred and each year thereafter]* at a permanency hearing that shall be held every 12 months with the first hearing to be held after the earlier of the following dates:

(1) the date of the order entered under section 5526 of this title; or

(2) 60 days after the date the custody of the child was initially transferred.

At the request of any party or on the court's own motion, the initial and any subsequent *[judicial reviews]* permanency hearings may be held every *[six]* three months for children who were younger than three years of age at the time of the order*[. At the request of any party or on the court's own motion, the initial judicial review may be held 12 months from the date of the order]* and every six months for children who were between the ages of threeand six years at the time *[it was entered]* of the order. Upon request or motion for review of a younger sibling, the court shall review the order of disposition of all siblings in the custody of the commissioner. In no event shall any such order remain in force or effect beyond the minority of the child.

(b) Any person to whom legal custody or guardianship over the person has been transferred shall thereafter file a notice of review with the court before whom such proceeding was held, the state's attorney having jurisdiction, and all parties to the proceeding, and, in addition, shall file with such court and such state's attorney a report and recommendation. Service upon a party of such notice shall be effected by mailing a copy thereof to his or her last known address. Failure to give such notice or to review an order shall not terminate the original order or limit the court's jurisdiction. The foster parents, if any, of the child and any pre-adoptive parent or relative providing care for the child shall be provided notice of and an opportunity to be heard at any permanency hearing held with respect to the child. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as affording such person party status in the proceeding.

(c) Within 30 days *[after the]* of filing of the notice of review, a permanency hearing shall be held for the purpose of considering the review of the order of disposition*[, which hearing]* and shall be held *[in all respects]* as a hearing on a petition under this chapter, except that in such a hearing, all evidence helpful in determining the questions presented, including oral and written reports, may be admitted and relied upon to the extent of its probative value, even though not competent in a hearing on a petition. The hearing shall be held by the juvenile court or by an administrative body appointed or approved by the court. The administrative body may consist of one but not more than three persons. No person employed by the department of social and rehabilitation services shall be a member of the administrative body.

(d) The *[review mandated by]* permanency hearing held under subsection (c) of this section shall determine *[whether]* the permanency plan for the child that includes whether and, if applicable, when:

(1) the child *[or custody thereof shall]* will be returned to *[his]* the parents *[or otherfamily members]*;

(2) the child *[shall be continued in the custody of the commissioner for a specified]* *[period]* will be released for adoption;

(3) the child*[, because of exceptional circumstances, shall remain in the custody of the commissioner on a long term basis as a permanent plan or with a goal of independent living]* will be referred for legal guardianship; or

(4) the child *[should be considered for adoption or legal guardianship]* will remain in the same or be placed in another planned permanent living arrangement because the commissioner has demonstrated to the satisfaction of the court a compelling reason that it is not in the child's best interests to return home, to have residual parental rights terminated and be released for adoption or placed with a fit and willing relative or legal guardian.

Sec. 3. 13 V.S.A. § 5236(a) is amended to read:

(a) The determination whether a person covered by sections 5231-5234 of this title is a needy person shall be deferred until his or her first appearance in court or in a suit for payment or reimbursement under section 5255 of this title, whichever occurs earlier. Thereafter, the court shall determine, with respect to each proceeding, whether the person is a needy person. For purposes of this section, an appeal is a separate proceeding. The determination of need, for purposes of an appeal, shall be based on a separate application submitted on or after the date of the order appealed from, except that an appeal from a proceeding under chapter 55 of Title 33 is not a separate proceeding and does not require a separate application.

Sec. 4. 15A V.S.A. § 1-113 is amended to read:

§ 1-113. CRIMINAL RECORD CHECKS

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Sec. 5. 15A V.S.A. § 2-201(c) is amended to read:

(c) A court may waive all or part of the requirement of a preplacement evaluation forgood cause shown, but a person who is the subject of a waiver shall be evaluated during the pendency of a proceeding for adoption.

Approved: April 21, 1998