Almost everyone who attends a court hearing concerning a foster child has some legal standing, except the foster parents. The foster parents who have 24/7 knowledge of the child in their care and the possibility of providing permanence have a diminished voice or no voice at all. That makes no sense.
Suppose as a foster parent that you object to certain portions of the case plan. You may disagree with the visitation agreement or with requirements for counseling or for placement in special education classes. You may disagree with the decision to remove the child from your home (for reasons other than substantiated abuse).
You may believe that what has been proposed is not in the child’s best interests. As a team member, a professional and trained parent, and an advocate for the child in your care, you have a duty to make your voice heard. You have a duty, but not always the opportunity.
Here are some privileges or rights which would help in fulfilling that duty:
- The right to be notified of all case reviews. Ten days before any case review, including a permanency hearing, the child welfare department should provide notice of the hearing to the child’s foster parent.
- Should a caseworker plan to remove a child from the foster home for reasons other than substantiated abuse, and the foster parent disagrees, the foster parent should be able to call for a case conference, to include the caseworker, the foster parents, the birth parents, any court appointed special advocate or guardian ad litem, and the child if appropriate.
- Encouragement to hire an attorney when appropriate. Foster parents may seek the services of an attorney to represent their position at case conferences and in court.
- The right to submit a written statement directly to the court. The foster parent should be able to submit his or her daily journal about the child’s progress, or any other documentation or statement directly to the judge. This might include the identification of persons, such as relatives, teachers, therapists, and others who know the child and from whom the court might wish to hear before making a life-shaping decision. Such written material can be made a part of the court record, provided that a copy has been given to the other parties in the proceeding.
- The right to present oral testimony in court. In addition to presenting a written statement, the foster parents should also have the opportunity to address the court as a witness to testify about the child’s well-being and what the foster parent perceives to be in the child’s best interests.
- The right to question other witnesses at the hearing. The foster parents should have the right to ask questions of any witnesses at the court review or permanency hearings. This would include the caseworker, therapist, teachers, anyone who gives testimony. The foster parents might wish to be represented by an attorney who would do the questioning.
- The right to request intervention as a legal party. This would give foster parents the right to file motions. Foster parents have always had the right to request party status. The judge may grant such standing if he or she deems it to be in the child’s best interests. Legal standing should be automatic after the child has been with the foster parents for six months.
The caseworker remains legally in charge and of course, the court makes the final decisions. The above recommendations are intended to assure that foster parents as team members will be fully heard in the venues where important life-shaping decisions for the child are made.