Foster Parent Rights
The Foster Role
Foster families—called resource families in New Jersey—play a valuable role. They are trained and licensed to provide care for children who need to be placed outside their home. They help facilitate visitations between a child and his or her family. They also have some involvement in the child welfare case process, specifically during court proceedings as they have an interest in the child’s well-being, too.
When a child welfare agency removes a child from the home, the child is typically placed in foster care. Foster parents are temporary caretakers of a child while permanent placement is being sought. Because children in foster care often have unique needs, foster parents are carefully screened and given training on how to care for a foster child. The screening process is thorough, and foster parents must meet several requirements before they are licensed as a resource family so a child can be placed with them.
Prospective foster parents and all adults who live in their household have to undergo a thorough criminal background and child abuse registry check. Detailed reference checks will be done on all household members, to include medical, educational, employment, and personal references. Their home must also be evaluated and given a life-safety inspection to make sure it is appropriate and safe for foster children, and interviews will be held with all members of the household. Comprehensive psychological evaluations will also be conducted. Foster parent(s) must also be:
- Adults over 18
- In good enough health to meet the needs of the foster child
- Trained in how to be a foster parent
- Able to provide a safe home and nurturing family environment
- Able to make a commitment to caring for the child, and
- Able to work with the greater child welfare system to ensure the safety of foster children
Foster Family Involvement in Court
Foster families receive notices from the court with the details of upcoming hearings on the status of the case plan and the safety and placement of the child. In most cases, foster parents may attend these hearings and have a right to speak to the judge. Foster parents provide day to day care for foster children and thus have valuable information regarding the child’s well-being that can be helpful in court proceedings.
Foster parents are also allowed to ask questions or raise concerns about the child, the court proceedings, or anything related to the case. For example, a foster parent may ask the judge about the progress of the case or raise concerns over how visitations are going. Obtaining and providing information about the case can help foster parents better care for the child.
Limit of Involvement
Unlike the child’s natural parents, foster parents cannot remain in the courtroom for the entire hearing as these hearings are not public. A foster parent is not an official party to the case. Nevertheless, foster families have an interest in the well-being of the child and play a vital role in the case process. The foster parent may attend the hearing, speak to the judge and talk about the case, and then leave the courtroom.
Limit on Placement
Foster placement is meant to be short-term. Federal law limits the amount of time a child can spend in foster placement without a permanent family. The end goal in all child welfare cases is the child being placed in a safe and permanent home, be that with his or her parent or with adoptive parents. Typically, that time limit is 15 months. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) is required by law to take steps to terminate parental rights and find an adoptive family if a child has been in foster placement for 15 out of the last 22 months.
If a case has reached that time limit, the DCP&P may try to terminate parental rights. The child’s foster parents may then ask to adopt the child if they want and are approved to do so. Otherwise, the DCP&P may find another family who is willing to adopt the child. Bear in mind, terminating parental rights does not happen automatically. There will be separate court proceedings for this action. Parents have a right to an attorney and will have to appear in court.
It’s also important to understand a child could stay in foster placement longer than 15 months without the DCP&P trying to terminate your parental rights. In certain cases, the court allows an exception to the rule if it is the child’s best interests. Conversely, the DCP&P can also take action against parental rights before 15 months if it is in the child’s best interests.
Many parents fear they will never get their child back. It’s true that a child could be adopted after being in foster placement, but this is rare and doesn’t happen overnight. Parents have rights. In most cases, they will be given a chance to get their child back before parental rights are terminated, and the child is adopted.
If You Need Help, Contact Us
Speak with an experienced New Jersey child welfare attorney if your child is or may be placed in foster care. Though New Jersey utilizes a screening process to ensure every child in foster placement will be well taken care of, there are weaknesses and oversights in the system. Sometimes children are not placed in appropriate homes. If you have questions about the rights and responsibilities of foster families, consult with an experienced New Jersey child welfare attorney.
An attorney can explain the role of the foster family and help you make decisions that are in the best interests of your child. Foster placement is meant to be short-term, and a knowledgeable attorney can help ensure your child is returned home or put in permanent placement as soon as possible. It is important that you understand your rights as a parent and can gain peace of mind over the safety of your child while in foster placement. An attorney can help you defend your rights and make sure your child’s best interests are protected.