The staff of the Hamilton County Juvenile Court is comprised of caring professionals who have been trained to work with specific types of cases. Most have advanced degrees in the areas of psychology, social work or criminal justice. However, the commonality which each possesses is the commitment to providing the best possible assistance to the youth of Hamilton County.
a. The Judge
The Hamilton County Juvenile Court is under the general direction of the Juvenile Court Judge who is elected to an eight year term in a county-wide election. This position is unique in that it is the only judgeship with large administrative responsibilities which includes the supervision and administration of a full time professional staff in excess of 125 members and over 100 volunteers.
Referees are appointed by the Judge to serve in a judicial capacity. Like the Judge, Referees are licensed attorneys and hear various types of cases as may be directed by the Judge. A Referee has the same authority and powers as the Judge to issue process and to conduct proceedings. Any party to a proceeding before a Referee who is dissatisfied with the decision of the Referee may petition the Court for a rehearing by the Judge.
c. Court Administrator
The Judge also appoints an Court Administrator to supervise the departments and daily operations of the Court and staff. All departments report directly to the Court Administrator who then reports to the Judge. The Court Administrator oversees the preparation of the budget, capital projects, development of programs, management of the physical facility, interaction with community agencies, and personnel matters.
2. CHILD SUPPORT:
The Child Support Division of the Juvenile Court, frequently referred to as IV-D, was created to hear cases to establish paternity of children born out of wedlock and collect child support for absent or non-paying parents. All funds are collected by the State of Tennessee through their centralized collection network in Nashville. A private company, Maximus, performs the prosecution and case management aspects of the Child Support Division.
3. DEPENDENCY & NEGLECT:
The Dependency & Neglect Department of the Juvenile Court deals with issues of abandonment, abuse, neglect, visitation, parental rights termination, foster care plan ratification and orders of consent. A child who is without a parent, guardian, or legal custodian or who, due to some reason ranging from inability to pure cruelty, is not receiving proper care and supervision would be brought to the attention of the Dependency and Neglect Department through the filing of a petition.
The primary function of the Department is to assist individuals who come to the Court to file a petition with regard to one of the above mentioned matters. The Dependency and Neglect Department worker interviews the individual and then determines what type of initial action needs to be taken. Once a case is opened, upon the filing of a petition, the Department staff works closely with the Tennessee Department of Human Services, who conducts the investigatory aspects of the case before it is brought to a court hearing.
4. DETENTION CENTER:
The Detention Center is a temporary, secure, holding facility which houses youth awaiting trial or transfer to another facility, typically a Department of Youth Development program, after having been found guilty in a judicial proceeding.
In addition to delinquent offenders, the Center may hold runaway children up to twenty-four hours while the staff works toward problem resolution which ideally would result in the child's return home. In the event a child is unable to return home, the Court and staff work with local resources to admit the youth into a program which begins the long, often arduous process of addressing the problem which initially brought the child to the Court's attention.
The Detention Center is open twenty-four hours a day. While in the Center, residents participate in an educational program which is centered around vocational skills. Medical assessments are provided by the Hamilton County physician and additional assessments are conducted if ordered by the Court.
Visitation of a child in the unit is limited to parents and grandparents and must be arranged by appointment with the Center staff. Each child is provided with a written copy of all applicable rules while detained in the Center.
5. INFORMAL ADJUSTMENT:
The informal Adjustment Department provides crisis intervention services to families and citizens in the community. Staff address issues regarding children unwilling to abide by curfews, first time shoplifters, traffic citations, truancy, marriage consents, runaways, and unruly children. Department professionals also work closely with the Detention Center staff to schedule detention hearings and notify parents of same.
Informal Adjustment staff provide a way for the Court to attempt to address problems in an "unofficial" atmosphere before a child develops a legal file. It is the design of this department to address issues in a manner to make the youth and his parents aware of their respective responsibilities. Staff stress the importance of problem resolution and often refer families for additional services provided by community agencies.
6. INTAKE DEPARTMENT:
The Intake Department handles all cases brought in by law enforcement officials or individuals requiring Court hearings. These cases are generally delinquency matters, those which would be crimes if committed by an adult. Typical cases include: aggravated assault, burglary, robbery, weapon offenses, drug related offenses and even rape and murder.
Intake Department staff are trained to work with law enforcement, business owners, and other concerned citizens in filing petitions. Staff members set Court dockets within time limits prescribed by law and take cases into Court. This Department works closely with the District Attorney General's Office, Public Defender's Office, private attorneys and social agencies to insure the docket moves smoothly and efficiently.
7. INTENSIVE PROBATION:
The Intensive Probation or "Families First" Program is a highly structured monitoring mechanism designed as a means of keeping troubled youth from entering state custody. Delinquent offenders are placed on a suspended committal status generally for a period of twelve months. Monitoring Probation Officers carry a caseload of no more than thirteen and are required to have four face-to-face conferences with the youth each week.
During the first thirty days of the program, participants are required to wear electronic monitoring devices which insure they remain on house arrest. Probation Officers speak with school officials, neighbors, and parents regarding the progress of each participant.
The Intensive Probation Program not only works with children, but also with parents. Parents must attend group sessions which focus on parenting skills and other day to day issues. The Probation Officers work on team building and self esteem with the participant and his family.
The Probation Department is responsible for the task of monitoring juveniles county wide who have come into contact with the Court. Frequently, a first time offender before the Court will be placed on probation and assigned a Probation Officer. Probation Officers work in specific regions or districts of the county. This allows the officer to know individuals in their districts and to monitor their cases more closely. The officer typically becomes very familiar with the assigned district resulting in close working relationships between the officer and the schools, churches and individuals therein. In turn, officers make continuous reports back to the Court on the status of the children they monitor.
9. VOLUNTEER SERVICES:
Volunteer Services utilize volunteers in a number of capacities, including: Auxiliary Probation Officers, Associate Restitution Officers, Court Appointed Special Advocates and Foster Care Review Board panel members.
Volunteers are involved in virtually every aspect of court functioning. They work with professional staff to enhance services provided to children and their families. Volunteers complete an initial training course (which varies from 8 to 45 hours in length, depending on the desired area of service), attend quarterly continuing education training, and prepare monthly reports to the court.
The Auxiliary Probation Officer program develops and provides probationary supervision by trained, commissioned volunteers to assigned juveniles. APO's assist the Court in the supervision and monitoring of juveniles on probation or perhaps house arrest. APO's make home and school visits in the course of monitoring a child. Discovered information is furnished to the Court in monthly reports. The primary objective of the APO is to work to improve behavior patterns and help juveniles function as productive, law-abiding citizens.
Assistant Restitution Officers monitor the progress of children who have been assigned community service hours by the Court. Upon the Court ordering a child to perform community service hours, the Restitution Department assigns an ARO and a work site. The ARO then monitors the child by tracking work site progress, keeping records of completed work hours, and maintaining personal contacts until all court ordered services are successfully completed.
A CASA is a trained community volunteer appointed by the Judge or Referee to represent the best interests of an abused and neglected child in court. The CASA serves as the child's advocate in dealing with agencies and court personnel, to make sure that the child's unique needs are not overlooked and that his/her interests remain of paramount concern in the care planning process.
CASA's serve as a friend to the child, when appropriate, by recognizing his/her special needs, interpreting what is happening, giving individual attention and support, and remaining a stable, caring figure in the child's life until the need for a secure, permanent home is met.
In Hamilton County there are over 800 children living in foster care. State law mandates that every foster child's case must be reviewed by the Court on a periodic basis. To help with this task, panels of volunteers appointed by the Judge review cases between judicial reviews to insure the foster care plan is being implemented. Volunteers meet once a month to review cases and make recommendations to the Court.
The Juvenile Court of Hamilton County probably comes into direct contact with more families than any other single court within the county. This is true because of the wide range of jurisdiction the court possesses. Jurisdiction is the power/authority of a court to hear a particular type of case.
The Juvenile Court has jurisdiction to hear the following types of cases: abandonment, child support, child custody, contributing, delinquent, dependency and neglect, guardianships, legitimations, marriage consents, parental rights surrenders and termination's, paternity, runaway, truancy, traffic violations, unruly and visitation. The Court basically has jurisdiction over any matter involving an individual under the age of eighteen with the exception of adoptions and custody matters between parties in divorce actions.
Proceeding in Juvenile Court may be initiated in several different ways. Most proceedings however begin upon either a child being brought in be law enforcement or a petition being filed by an individual.
1. DELINQUENCY CASES:
A child may be taken into custody by law enforcement agencies for a variety of different reasons. These reasons typically, however, involve some form of alleged criminal activity by the child.
Upon a child's being taken into custody, he will be transported to the Detention Center of the Court. There the child will be detained until bond is posted by his parent or legal guardian or a detention hearing is conducted. If the child is removed from the center by the posting of a bond, an arraignment date will be scheduled for the child and parent to appear in court. The purpose of the arraignment is to formally advise the child and his parent or legal guardian of the nature of the pending charges. Typically at the arraignment, the charges are read verbatim to the child. The Court will also make an inquiry as to whether or not the child understands the nature of the pending charges and the intention of the child to seek legal representation. It should be noted that in the event a child wishes to be represented by an attorney but his parents are unable to obtain one due to indigency, the Court will appoint the District Public Defender's office or in some situations a private attorney. At the arraignment, a settlement date will be scheduled.
In the event a child is unable to be released from the Detention Center by the posting of a bond, a detention hearing is scheduled. At the detention hearing, the Court will determine whether or not the child should remain in the Detention Center pending trial or be released under some sort of supervision. Typically, where the child is a first time offender of a less serious offense, the Court will release the child on house arrest with an APO monitoring.
In some situations a child may not be immediately taken into custody. This occurs when the officer involved issues a citation to appear in court, as opposed to making an arrest, or where a private individual files a petition with the Court through the Intake Department. In either of these situations, an arraignment date is scheduled, and the child is notified by mail of the date of his court appearance. This initial appearance before the Court is conducted as an arraignment as previously discussed.
A settlement date follows the arraignment or detention hearing. At the settlement date the District Attorney General's office will be represented. This date is designed to resolve cases, when possible, without the necessity of having a full blown trial. At this appearance, the opposing attorneys will attempt to resolve the case in a manner which the Court will approve. If the case is not resolved, a trial date will be selected.
The Juvenile Court is a court of record and all trials or other proceedings before it are conducted with formality. Parties are expected to conduct themselves accordingly and to be properly attired (see court attire). The Juvenile Court like other courts may issue subpoenas and other process and may enforce its orders with contempt powers.
2. DEPENDENCY & NEGLECT CASES:
Cases appearing on the Dependency and Neglect docket typically originate in one of two ways: 1) a petition is filed by an individual alleging a child is not receiving proper care/supervision or, 2) the Tennessee Department of Human Services has removed a child from the home as an emergency measure. Regardless of how the case originates, a preliminary hearing is scheduled before the Court. If the child has been removed from the home, the parent or custodian may be entitled to an immediate preliminary hearing within three working days.
The preliminary hearing is not designed to be a full hearing on the merits of the case. It is used to determine if an imminent threat of harm exists such as to warrant continued out of home placement for the child. Additionally the preliminary hearing is used as a screening process to weed out frivolous petitions or wrongful removals. At the preliminary hearing, the Court will review the petition and give the parties an opportunity to respond. If the Court finds there is sufficient evidence to justify the petition / removal, the case is scheduled for an adjudicatory hearing. In cases where a physical removal of the child has occurred by the Department of Human Services, the Court will make an inquiry into whether or not the parent / guardian from which the child was removed desires to be represented by an attorney. In the event of indigency, the Court may appoint legal counsel.
The adjudicatory hearing in a dependency and neglect case is a full opportunity to be heard and present evidence. It is the trial wherein the Court is called upon to make a determination as to whether or not a child is truly dependent and neglected or the petition alleging so is unfounded. If the petition is found to be unwarranted, it will be dismissed. If, however, the petition is sustained and the subject children determined to be dependent and neglected, the Court may make an order placing them in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Human Services or in some situations in the custody of some other suitable person.
3. UNRULY/TRUANCY CASES
An unruly child is one who is habitually disobedient of the reasonable and lawful commands of his parent, guardian, or other custodian and is ungovernable or who has committed an offense applicable only to juveniles and is in need of treatment or rehabilitation. A truant child is one who while subject to the compulsory school attendance laws of the state is habitually and without justification truant from school.
The Court, at least initially, attempts to handle many of these cases on an informal basis. The Informal Adjustment Department staff in cases such as these will counsel with both the child and parent to make each aware of their respective responsibilities. In many instances where the child is a repeat offender or where the staff member feels it is warranted, the matter will be brought before the Court for resolution. If the Court finds it to be in the best interest of the child and the public, then an unruly child may be removed from the home of the parent or legal guardian and placed for appropriate treatment and rehabilitation.
4. COURT ROOM DECORUM / ATTIRE
All persons in the courtroom will stand while the Court is being opened and also while the Court is being adjourned. Upon the Judge or Referee entering or exiting the courtroom, the Bailiff will call the courtroom to order and direct ail in attendance to stand.
No person should approach the Judge or Referee at any time while in the courtroom. All persons must remain behind counsel tables located in the courtrooms except when called to the witness stand.
There is no smoking or chewing of gum in the courtroom. All lawyers, court attendants, and parties must be appropriately dressed. Short pants, cutoffs, blue jeans, tank tops or other types of informal dress are prohibited. All clothing should be clean, neat and properly worn.
Small children should be left at home with a responsible adult unless otherwise directed by the Court or staff.
ABANDONED CHILD - is a child whose parents or other persons lawfully charged with his care and custody willfully fail to visit or support or make payments toward his support for a period of four months.
ADULT - a person eighteen (18) years of age or older.
ATTACHMENT - legal process issued by the court commanding seizure and detainment of the person.
AUXILIARY PROBATION OFFICER (APO) - a volunteer trained to assist probation officers in supervising caseloads. APO's monitor youth on house arrest and assist with the completion of goals ordered by the court. APO's make periodic reports to the Court regarding the status of cases assigned.
ASSOCIATE RESTITUTION OFFICER (ARO) - ARO's monitor children who have been assigned community service hours (symbolic restitution) to complete. Volunteers monitor the child's progress at various worksites and report their findings back to the Court.
COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATE (CASA) - a trained community volunteer appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of a child. The CASA serves as the child's advocate in dealing with agencies and court personnel.
CHILD -(i) a person less than eighteen (18) years of age or (ii) a person under nineteen years of age who is under juvenile court jurisdiction. No exception is made even though a child is emancipated by marriage.
CUSTODIAN - is a person, other than a parent or legal guardian, who stands in loco parentis the child or a person to whom temporary legal custody of the child has been given by order of a court.
CUSTODY - means the control of actual physical care of the child and includes the right and responsibility to provide for the physical, mental, moral and emotional well-being of the child. Custody, as herein defined, relates to those rights and responsibilities as exercised either by the parents or by a person or organization granted custody by the court. Custody is not to be construed as the termination of parental rights. Custody does not exist by virtue of mere physical possession of the child.
DELINQUENT ACT - is an act designated a crime under the law, including local ordinances of this state, or of another state if the act occurred in that state, or under federal law, and the crime is not specifically excluded under the delinquency statutes and the crime is not a traffic offense as defined in the traffic code of the state other than failing to stop when involved in an accident, driving under the influence of an intoxicant or drug, or vehicular homicide.
DELINQUENT CHILD - means a child who has committed a delinquent act and is in need of treatment or rehabilitation.
DEPENDENT AND NEGLECTED - a child (a) who is without a parent, guardian, or legal custodian; (b) whose parents, guardian, or person with whom the child lives, by reason of cruelty, mental incapacity, immorality or depravity is unfit to properly care for such child; (c) who is under unlawful or improper care, supervision, custody or restraint by any person; (d) whose parents, guardian or custodian neglects or refuses to provide necessary medical, surgical, institutional or hospital care for such child; (e) who because of lack of proper supervision, is found in any place the existence of which is in violation of the law; (f) who is in such a condition of want or suffering or is under such improper guardianship or control as to injure or endanger the morals, or health of himself or others; (g) who is suffering from or has sustained a wound injury, disability, or physical or mental condition caused by brutality, abuse or neglect; (h) who has been in the care and control of an agency or person who is not related to such child by blood or marriage for a continuous period of eighteen months or longer in the absence of a court order; (i) who is or has been allowed, encouraged or permitted to engage in prostitution, obscene or pornographic photographing, filming, posing or similar activity and whose parent, guardian or other custodian neglects or refuses to protect such child from further such activity.
FOSTER CARE REVIEW BOARD (FCRB) - pursuant to state law, every foster child's case must be periodically reviewed by the Court. The FCRB assists the Court by again reviewing cases between judicial hearings to ensure the foster care plan and its goals are being implemented.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM - an individual appointed by the Court to represent a child or a minor or any person under a disability for a specific cause.
REFEREE - a licensed attorney appointed by the Judge to serve in a judicial capacity. The Referee has the same authority and powers as the Judge to issue process and to conduct proceedings. A party aggrieved by a Referee's decision may petition the Judge to rehear the case.
RESTITUTION - compensation which is accomplished through actual monetary payment to the victim or the offense by the child who committed the offense, or symbolically, through unpaid community service work by the child, for property damage or loss incurred as a result of the delinquent offense.
UNRULY CHILD - means a child who: