Before Probation decides to bring a youth into detention, it must determine that it would be contrary to their welfare to return home. Probation must conduct an investigation and base its decision on evidence that can be put before the court. Only if it finds that returning home is contrary to the youth’s welfare can Probation bring the youth into custody.
Once a youth has been taken into detention, he or she will have a detention hearing, and Probation must conduct an assessment of the need for the removal from home to present to the court at the detention hearing. If Probation is recommending continued detention of the youth, Probation must inform the juvenile court, in writing, the reasons why a youth is at risk of entering foster care placement, including any prior referrals to child protective services and the reasonable efforts made to prevent removal from the home. In addition, Probation must identify available services that could allow the youth to return home and any relatives who could provide care of the youth.
Based on this information, the juvenile court can find that returning home would be contrary to the youth’s welfare despite Probation’s reasonable efforts, that Probation must continue to provide services to the family, and that placement and care responsibility of the youth belongs to the Probation Department in the meantime. These court orders authorize Probation to detain the youth in a foster care placement prior to the dispositional hearing; the youth need not be detained in juvenile hall during this time. If the juvenile court orders a youth’s detention, the detention may be in juvenile hall or “other suitable place determined by the court.” Section #s 4-8 of this tool describe the available “suitable” options which can be considered as detention locations as well as dispositional options. The same court orders that authorize detention in a suitable placement also open up Title IV-E funds under the federal Social Security Act to support the maintenance and administration costs related to these placements.
Whenever a youth is detained, Probation has an obligation to investigate and plan for the ultimate disposition of the youth’s case, including where the youth will reside. Probation must complete and submit a “case plan” summarizing its reasonable efforts to return the youth home, its plan for ongoing services to the youth and family, and its recommendation for placement as part of the disposition recommendation in the youth’s case. Probation must complete the case plan within 60 calendar days of removal from the home or by the date of the dispositional hearing, whichever occurs first. Whenever Probation is obligated to complete a case plan, which includes any time it recommends a disposition of foster care placement, Probation’s case plan must include input from the youth’s “child and family team” (CFT). The case plan and the child and family team are critical tools for coordinating services and for gathering input from those closest to the youth. They also reduce costs by increasing efficiency.
A case plan is not merely a report. It is an evolving roadmap for providing services and supports to a youth and family. The plan must be memorialized in a written document, discrete from other probation reports, and updated at specified times. Most pertinent to this tool, the case plan must include a recommended foster care placement, including input from the youth’s child and family team (CFT), even if Probation and the CFT disagree.
Although many jurisdictions equate foster care placement with short-term residential therapeutic programs (STRTPs) and other forms of group care, placement in group care comes with documented harmful effects that have prompted both state and federal lawmakers to urge county agencies, including Probation Departments, to reform their placement array and increase the number of service-wrapped, family-based placements near a young person’s community. California law makes clear that an appropriate placement is:
- the least restrictive,
- most family-like environment,
- that promotes normal childhood experiences,
- in close proximity to the minor’s home,
- that meets the minor’s best interest and special needs.
The case plan must show that Probation has considered the least restrictive placement options first, following this order of priority:
- placement with relatives and non-relative extended family,
- foster family homes,
- treatment foster homes,
- group care placements,
- out-of-state residential treatment.
In other words, Probation cannot place a youth in a group home, short-term residential therapeutic program (STRTP), or any out-of-state placement without first considering the less restrictive alternatives listed above.
Section #s 4-8 below describe the types of non-custodial residential settings that may be appropriate for a young person as detention or dispositional options, in order of priority. The majority of these options are eligible for reimbursement through Title IV-E of the federal Social Security Act (covering portions of maintenance, administrative, and training costs related to placement) and Medicaid (covering about half of eligible costs), or utilize another federal or state funding stream, and therefore are more cost-effective for counties than custodial programming.