"Can We Go Home Now?": Expediting Adoption and Termination of Parental Rights Appeals in Ohio State Courts

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I. INTRODUCTION

Two years ago, the Ohio Supreme Court amended its rules and those of Ohio's intermediate appellate courts in order to fast-track appeals of cases involving termination of parental rights ("TPR") and adoption of minor children. (1) Three of Ohio's twelve appellate districts already had local rules to expedite or accelerate these types of appeals, (2) but in some districts, the amended rules established procedures that were entirely new.

The major impetus behind the court's amendments to the rules was to move children out of foster care and into permanent adoptive homes more quickly. (3) Further, by amending the rules of the intermediate appellate courts, the court attempted to impose a greater consistency in the progress of these types of appeals across the state. (4)

Both sets of amendments expressly abbreviate the time allowed to complete various stages of the appeals process. (5) If the deadlines established by the rules were met, both courts would achieve the goal of accelerating the resolution of TPR and adoption cases. (6) The amendment to the intermediate appellate court rules also prescribes a more consistent process across the twelve appellate districts. But, substantial differences in the progression of TPR and adoption cases from one appellate district to another persist because courts implement the amendments with their own internal operating procedures and practices.

This Article analyzes the mechanisms for expediting TPR and adoption appeals in Ohio. Part II discusses the background and the rationale for promulgating the amendments to the rules. Part III describes the amendments to Ohio's Rules of Appellate Procedure and the Rules of Practice of the Supreme Court of Ohio. This section also evaluates the success of the amendments in meeting the declared goals of speed and consistency. Part IV concludes that Ohio's bold decision to promulgate amendments that detail the progression of expedited appeals (7) should be followed by state-wide efforts to define and measure their success, for the amendments can best serve dependent children if their ramifications are carefully evaluated and considered.

II. BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE FOR EXPEDITING ADOPTION AND TPR APPEALS

Moving children without undue delay from foster care into safe, permanent families--whether through reunification with the child's biological family or through termination of the birth family's parental rights and adoption--has been a focus of child welfare policy and legislation since at least the 1980s. (8) The resulting federal and state efforts to accomplish an appropriately swift resolution to child abuse, neglect, and dependency cases have come in many different forms. A patchwork of federal and state legislation, court rules, and internal operating procedures function together to set agency and court deadlines for evaluating and reporting on cases, filing briefs, scheduling oral arguments, and completing judicial decisions in TPR and adoption appeals. (9) Moreover, as in any statutory or regulatory scheme, new policies, goals, ideas, and needs regularly lead the courts and legislators to change and adjust the existing patchwork.

A. Changes in Federal and Ohio Legislation

The recent changes to Ohio's court rules follow on the heels of landmark federal legislation, the Adoption and Safe Families Act ("AFSA" or "federal Act") (10) and Ohio's complementary state legislation aimed at reducing the time abused, neglected, or dependent children spend in foster care. (11)

In 1997, Congress enacted AFSA in order to reduce the number of children in foster care by doubling the number of adoptions, measured annually, by 2002. (12) To achieve this increase in adoptions, AFSA accelerated key procedural requirements at the trial court level. Among other things, AFSA requires the first permanency hearing to be held twelve months from the time a child first enters foster care, rather than the previous duration of eighteen months. …

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