Foster parents play a huge role in the court process. Children’s Court exists to protect children and help keep them safe. It aims to establish permanency in a child’s life, whether that’s with their birth parents or through adoption or another living arrangement.
You should stay informed throughout the process and know what rights you have. As the child’s foster parent, you have the legal right to know about and participate in review, permanency, and post-TPR (termination of parental rights) review hearings. Review hearings are held every six months until the child is placed in a permanent home and the case is closed. Permanency hearings have to occur by the 12th month the child is in foster care, and then every six months following. Post-TRP hearings happen after parental rights are terminated and then every six months until the child is placed in a permanent home.
As the foster parent, you have crucial information to offer the judge when they make decisions affecting the child you’re caring for. Some of the information you can provide to the judge:
- Placement information, such as when the child came to live with you and their emotional and physical condition at the time
- Medical information, like what medications the child is taking, any visits to the doctor or hospitalizations, and their physical development
- Behavioral information, like how the child behaves in your home, what services the child receives and who provides them, how they express their emotions and needs
- Educational information, what grade the child is in school, their performance, the date of the last school conference you attended, what educational testing they’ve received and the results of the tests, and any educational needs they have
- Visitation information, when parents and other family members have visited the child, the behavior you observed of the child and parent (if you were present at the visitation), and any other contact with family members including phone calls and letters
- Recommendations of any services you think the child needs and would benefit from, and why
A lot of this information may be stuff that you’ve already told to your caseworker or the child’s Court Appointed Special Advocate. However, you should still repeat it directly to the judge. The judge may have questions about some of these areas that only you will be able to answer.
In the courtroom, don’t feel scared to speak up and ask for clarification if you feel you do not understand something. Ask your social worker to explain the reason behind each hearing to help you better understand what role you’re playing. Make sure to bring records with you for all of the bulleted information above, and be aware that all written materials you bring may be requested and copied for the official record. Above all, avoid appearing hostile to your foster child’s birth family, even if you don’t have the strongest relationship with them. The court typically listens best to foster parents that have tried to work with birth parents and aren’t focused on their own agenda. These hearings risk positioning a foster parent in a natural conflict between their role as a foster parent and their desire to adopt a child who has been in their care. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be a foster parent first and foremost and try to help the child be reunited with a healthy and happy birth family. That is what is best for the child, even if we judge ourselves better parents than the birth parents. Focus on the child above all. That can be emotionally draining to do but it is the only way to ensure the best possible outcome for the child’s long term mental health.
Also, going through court will likely be a time of high stress for your foster child. Offer them support the best way you can and be understanding if your child seems to act out more than usual.