The 26th Judicial Circuit was honored by Missouri Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson during an awards breakfast Sept. 23 for its timely work in cases impacting children during fiscal 2020. The circuit – encompassing Camden, Laclede, Miller, Moniteau and Morgan counties – has qualified for the Permanency Award every year since its inception.

Established in 2006, the Permanency Award recognizes the leadership and hard work of judges, juvenile officers, clerks, children’s division workers, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and other support staff who work every day to protect and ensure stability for children who suffer from abuse and neglect. Award recipients achieved standards for timely hearings in fiscal 2020 in child abuse and neglect cases in which children removed from their homes are to be reunited with their families or are to be placed in another permanent home as soon as possible. The time frames, developed from recommendations of the Commission on Children’s Justice, apply to six types of hearings and vary depending on the type of hearing.

“Children are being brought into Missouri courtrooms every day, through no fault of their own, because they have been abused or neglected,” Wilson said. “These children rely on our Courts to find them a safe, stable and permanent home as quickly as possible. Fiscal 2020 was particularly challenging for Courts to reach that ultimate permanency goal, however, as COVID-19 disrupted many of their dockets for more than three months at the end of the fiscal year. I am proud of all the circuits for continuing to prioritize the needs of children during the pandemic, and particularly proud of those that found ways to complete 100 percent of these critical hearings on time.”

While the number of hearings has increased every year since the Court instituted the award, the percentage of those held on time remains more than 90 percent. The state’s Courts averaged 95 percent timeliness before the pandemic and, despite disruptions in dockets beginning March 16, 2020, still managed to hold 92 percent of the more than 54,300 required hearings on time. Five circuits – including the 26th circuit, despite an increase in the number of hearings – were able to hold 100 percent of hearings on time.

“With the 26th Circuit’s large juvenile caseload, holding thousands of timely hearings is a mammoth undertaking that requires the tireless, and often thankless, work of many lawyers, Guardian Ad Litems, juvenile  officers, Children’s Division workers and staff,” the circuit’s Presiding Judge, Judge Matthew P. Hamner, said. 

“Having timely hearings with respect to juvenile matters is extremely important in helping to establish permanency for children and expediting our efforts to reunify families. I want to thank all of these incredible people for their dedication to the children of the 26th Circuit.”

This article originally appeared on Lake Sun Leader: 26th Judicial District honored for timely work with children