§4 ch26: Termination of Parental Rights (TPR)
26.4 Procedures for Pursuing Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights (TPR)
A request for voluntary termination of parental rights may arise in many different circumstances. It may come from expectant mothers who wish to place their infant for adoption or parent(s) of one or more children. It may come from parents involved in a child abuse neglect case. It may come from parents involved in private child custody or child support case. When a birth parent approaches the worker about executing a voluntary consent to termination of parental rights the Children Services Worker should determine the basis for the parent(s) request. The worker should inform the parent(s) of the full range of alternatives for providing for the child including services available through the Children’s Division and other agencies and community resources. The worker should explain to the birth parent that deciding whether to sign to sign consent to TPR is a very significant step which has and permanent legal and social consequence for the birth parents, the child and the extended family. The worker should inform the parent(s) that the worker would be happy to explain the Children’s Division process and procedure for processing and procedure for processing consents to termination of parental rights but the worker shall not give legal advice about whether or not it is in the birth parent’s legal interests to sign consent to TPR form. The worker should advise the parent to consult with an attorney before the parent makes a decision to agree to a voluntary termination of parental rights. If the parent does not have an attorney the worker should refer the parent to the legal aid office which covers the area and to the Missouri Bar Lawyer’s Referral Service. Information on how to access these services is available on line at www.mobar.org and then click on “Find a Lawyer”. The worker should carefully document in the record what information was provided to the parent and that the worker advised the parent to seek independent legal advice before signing the consent. The parents should be given sufficient time to carefully think through their decision and to consult with an attorney.
If the parent of the child is a minor, or the worker has information which would indicate that the parent is under a disability which may make it difficult for the parent to understand the legal and social consequences of signing a consent to termination of parental rights the consent to termination of parental rights may be invalid unless additional procedures are followed. If any of these circumstances apply the worker should refer the matter to DLS for legal advice on what legal procedures may be appropriate. Once voluntary relinquishments become the plan, the following steps should be completed:
- Written consent forms, authorized by the local juvenile court, should be completed and signed in accordance with court policy. It is preferable that the parent’s attorney be present when the forms are signed.
- If a custody order is required, follow local juvenile court requirements for obtaining one.
- Cooperate with local juvenile court requirements for letter/report, interrogatories, depositions, appearances, testimony, etc.
- Collect parental background information, i.e., ethnic/cultural/religious heritage, citizenship or immigration status, physical description, health, education, etc. It is also important to determine whether the child may have Native American ancestry and whether notice to the tribe is required by the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.
- Once case is concluded, obtain copy of any orders entered.
Outcome of TPR:
- Granted TPR: If the Court grants TPR, then CD must implement the permanency plan.
- If the Court denies the petition the worker should evaluate the reasons the court gave for the denial and take appropriate actions, including reevaluating the permanency plan for the child. The worker should promptly schedule an FST to determine an appropriate case plan. Such discussions in the FST should include evaluation of appropriateness of the concurrent plan. If the Court denies the petition and the child was in the custody of the Children’s Division the Division may have the right to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court. The decision whether or not to file an appeal must be made in conjunction with the Circuit Manager and the Division of Legal Services. An appeal must be filed within 40 days of the date of the Court’s order denying the petition. To pursue an appeal the Division of Legal Services must prepare and submit a referral to the Attorney General’s Office. If the Division wishes to consider pursuing an appeal the Division must refer the matter to DLS no later than 10 days from the date of the entry of the Court’s order. If the appeal is not filed with the court in a timely manner the judgment becomes final and, in most circumstances, cannot be appealed further.
If costs are assessed costs or attorney fees, against the Division, payment must be processed within 30 days. If there is a question about whether the Court has the authority to assess the costs or attorney fees against the Division, or whether the amount charged to the Division is reasonable the worker should initiate a referral for legal advice to the Division of Legal Services (DLS). Court rules impose time limits on the ability of the Division to challenge such orders once they are entered. In most cases challenges must be filed with the court within 30 days of the date of the entry of the Court’s order. The worker and the supervisor must therefore process such DLS referrals on an expedited basis.
NOTE: Section 211.444, RSMo, states: “The written consent required by subsection 1 of this section shall be valid and effective only after the child is at least forty-eight hours old and if it complies with the other requirements of Section 453.030, RSMo.”