ACT (www.adoptioninchildtime.org) firmly believes that every child deserves a permanent home. Reunification and adoption remain the two most viable options.
Being a foster parent entails more than simply providing food and shelter to a child in need. Advocating for the foster child is both a right and a responsibility of every foster parent. Since the foster parent is the one responsible for the child’s care 24/7, they usually possess the most comprehensive understanding of the child’s current situation.
Consider, for instance, a situation in which you disagree with certain aspects of the case plan. You might be convinced that what has been proposed is not in the best interests of the child. Perhaps you object to the visitation agreement or the requirements for counseling or special education placement. You might even contest the decision to remove the child from your home for reasons other than substantiated abuse. As a valued member of the team, a trained professional, and an advocate for the child in your care, it is your duty to make your voice heard. The following rights will help you fulfill that duty effectively.
The Power to Request a Case Conference
Foster parents should have the right to participate in decisions regarding the placement of their foster children and the development or modification of the case plan. Should a caseworker plan to remove a child from your home for reasons other than substantiated abuse, and you disagree with the decision, you should be able to request a case conference. This conference would involve the caseworker, the foster parents, the birth parents, the CASA, and, if appropriate, the child. Other relevant individuals, such as teachers and counselors, may also be invited to attend. Every attempt should be made to reach an agreement.
The Option to Retain Legal Counsel
Foster parents have the right to engage an attorney to represent their interests during case conferences, appeals hearings, and court proceedings.
The Right to Receive Notification of All Periodic Case Reviews
At least ten days prior to the periodic case review, including any review that constitutes a permanency hearing, the state should notify the child’s foster parent of the scheduled hearing.
The Ability to Submit a Written Statement Directly to the Court
Foster parents should be able to submit written documentation or statements directly to the judge, such as their daily journal regarding the child’s progress. Additionally, they can identify individuals, such as relatives, teachers, and therapists, who are familiar with the child and whose input the court may find valuable when making significant decisions. If a copy of the written material has been provided to the other parties involved, it can become part of the court record.
The Opportunity to Provide Oral Testimony in Court
In addition to submitting a written statement, foster parents should have the chance to address the court as witnesses, testifying about the child’s well-being and what they believe to be in the child’s best interests.
The Right to Cross-Examine Witnesses at Hearings
Foster parents should retain the right to cross-examine any witnesses during court reviews or permanency hearings. This includes caseworkers, therapists, teachers, and anyone else who presents testimony. In all likelihood, foster parents would prefer to have legal representation to perform the cross-examinations.
The Ability to Request Intervention as a Legal Party
In addition to the aforementioned rights, foster parents should have the opportunity to request legal party status. Such status would grant them the ability to file motions. Foster parents have always had the right to request party status, and the judge may grant it if they believe it to be in the child’s best interests.
To ensure permanence and other crucial child-rearing outcomes, it is essential for foster parents to possess guaranteed rights that allow them access to child welfare agencies and the courts—the entities responsible for making critical decisions. These rights aren’t about gaining new privileges for foster parents; instead, they provide an opportunity for foster parents to fulfill one of their primary responsibilities: acting as advocates for the children in their care. The best interests of the child necessitate that foster parents have the chance to fully convey their knowledge and willingness to provide before the court determines the child’s future.