A vital part of dependency court is coming back on line, giving parents their first meaningful chance to get their kids back after a removal.

Philadelphia Courts President Judge Idee C. Fox issued an order Thursday that will restart adjudicatory hearings. Typically held within 10 days after a child has been removed from a home due to alleged abuse or neglect, these hearings had been suspended since Mar. 16, after a Pa. Supreme Court order granted city courts wide latitude on what proceedings could be halted during the pandemic.

Philly will now hold the hearings by phone, initially, bringing city dependency courts in line with those across the state in Allegheny County, which had already been holding them via teleconference.

Such hearings are a vital part of upholding due process rights for parents, advocates say.

“We are excited to see the court expand access to hearings for families, and are grateful to court leadership for their work to ensure that the voices of families are heard during this time,” said Kathleen Creamer, managing attorney of the Family Advocacy Unit of Community Legal Services, which represents parents in court. “We look forward to collaborating with the court as they work to further expand opportunities to ensure judicial review of these very important matters.”

There will be more to do.

Philly foster youth typically receive four status hearings per year, during which they can speak directly to the judge overseeing their case about any issue affecting them. Those hearings, for now, remain suspended. Philly foster youth are also still not receiving any in-person familial visits.

Since the outset of the pandemic, outside advocates have been scrambling to offer foster youth the support they need, providing both emotional support and housing.

Steve is a freelance writer and investigative reporter at Resolve Philadelphia, a collaborative journalism project focused on problems and solutions. He has served as a contributing editor for Discover,...