ACT (www.adoptioninchildtime.org) believes that every child has the right to a permanent home. Reunification and adoption are the only two true permanent resolutions.
Foster parenting involves more than providing food and shelter for a child in wardship. Advocating for the foster child is one of the rights and duties of a foster parent. The foster parent is responsible for the child 24/7, and in that circumstance, often knows the child’s current situation better than anyone else.
Suppose, for example, you object to certain portions of the case plan. You believe that what has been proposed is not in the child’s best interests. 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. As a team member, a professional and trained parent and an advocate for the child in your care, you have the duty to make your voice heard. The following rights should assist you in fulfilling that duty.
The right to call a case conference
Foster parents are to be involved in decisions about placement of their foster children and about developing or changing the case plan. 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, the CASA, and the child if appropriate. Additional persons of import such as teachers and counselors may also be invited. Every effort should be made to achieve agreement.
The right to hire an attorney
Foster parents may seek the services of an attorney to represent their position at case conferences, appeals hearings, and in court.
The right to notification of all periodic case reviews
Ten days before the periodic case review, including a case review that is a permanency hearing, the state should provide notice of the hearing to the child’s foster parent.
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 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 parent(s) 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 cross-examine all witnesses at the hearing
The foster parents should have the right to cross-examine any witnesses at the court review or permanency hearings. This would include the caseworker, therapist, teachers, anyone who gives testimony. Probably, the foster parents would wish to be represented by an attorney who would perform the cross-examinations.
The right to request intervention as a legal party
In addition to the above rights, legal party status 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.
To promote permanence and other vital child-rearing outcomes, foster parents need guaranteed rights of access to the child welfare agencies and the courts, those parties who make the important decisions. These rights are not about new privileges for foster parents. Rather, they represent the opportunity for foster parents to fulfill one of their important duties: to act as advocate for the children in their care. The best interests of the child require that foster parents have the opportunity to tell the court fully what they know and what they are willing to provide, before the court decides the child’s entire future.