Foster Care; “Right to be Heard”

As stated in previous blog entries; I belong to a number of on line message boards dealing with foster care and adoption.

One, of numerous, issues I have seen from foster parents is proceedings being conducted in which they were not advised of or not being given the opportunity to be heard at proceedings. This is an issue because who knows the foster child the best but the foster parents. Foster parents care for the youth twenty-four/seven while a social or case worker might be the youth for 20 minutes or so a month; if they are lucky. The judge and they mainly rely on the “case file” in making decisions.

Recently I received my E mail copy of “Fostering Perspectives” November 2007 issue. This comes out twice a year from the North Carolina Department of Human Services. I consider it one of the best state agency newsletters dealing with foster care and adoption in the country.

Two of the first sentences in the issues immediately caught my eye:

“There is a lot of change afoot in North Carolina’s child welfare system.

Just consider: a new federal law gives foster parents the right to be heard at court hearings.”

My first reaction was, “What, I haven’t heard of a new federal law! What is it and when was it passed and why hasn’t there been any news about it?”

I immediately felt the need to research the issue because I know of its importance to foster parents and foster youth.

I went to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children & Families web site. It is very detailed though it is done in a way where one must know what they are looking for. I did numerous searches entering a variety of words…then BINGO! I hit the jack pot! Surprisingly the answer is in the Social Security Act and not one directly related to foster care.

8.3C.2b  TITLE IV-E, Foster Care Maintenance Payments Program, State Plan/Procedural Requirements, Case review system, notice and opportunity to be heard
2. Do the notice requirements in section 475(G) of the Social Security Act apply to all court hearings? Do they apply to shelter care, emergency removal, adjudication and disposition hearings? Do they apply to procedural hearings, such as pretrial hearings or hearings on motions for discovery? 
Answer:  The revised statutory language confers a “right” to be heard instead of an “opportunity,” as well as changes such right to be heard to a “proceeding” instead of “review or hearing” as in the previous language. Thus, we are interpreting this change to mean that in having a “right” to any “proceeding” to be held with respect to the child, the foster parents, pre-adoptive parents or relatives providing care for a child must, at a minimum, be provided with notice of their right to be heard in all permanency hearings, as well as six-month reviews, if held by the court.

Source:  01/29/07
Legal Reference:  Social Security Act – section 475(5)(G), 45 CFR 1356.21(o)

If you wish to go to the source:

As far as I can tell, in my initial research, that North Carolina is the only state to date to implement this change in the law regarding foster parents having the right to be heard in ALL proceedings regarding youth in their care. I have much more research yet to do about other states.

I believe every foster parent in every county and state should print a copy of this new federal statement and give it to their local agency and also send it to their state office and let them know they need to implement this new policy.

I am sure most states, as they have in the past on many issues, will move slowly on this issue or attempt to ignore it if possible.

This policy was established in January 2007 and it is now about to be December 2007. A year has almost gone by yet it appears foster parents continue to not be notified of proceedings and even when they are they are told not to come nor advised they have a right to be heard. This MUST change!

When it comes to foster youth, those who know the most about them; their problems, their improvements, etc. is the ones who provide the care not those who just read a case file…which many times is totally incomplete or contains wrong information.

It’s up to us; foster parents, youth advocates…the policy is now in place…WE must see that our state follows it!