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!


14 Responses

  1. That’s great…but what I would really like to see is a federal law REQUIRING all foster kids age 14 and up to attend court hearings. My former foster son will be 16 in January and since he was taken from my home he has not once been allowed to speak to a judge. He wants to come home, but his case worker will not let him and he is being kept from appearing in court even though he has asked to go several times. He has even considered (though I was able to talk him out of it) committing a CRIME just so that he could go before a judge!

  2. Thank you for putting this information out there. While the experience working with our local social service agency has been a good one so far and we are told about court dates, we have not really been asked about attending them, which is something we might pursue in the future.

    One step that we have taken to ensure that what is happening in foster care is accurately represented in court, is to document everything related to the care of our foster son. This includes medical, financial, as well as daily notes on his progress and contacts with anyone who has a role in his placement or care.

    While it is not easy to document everything, we feel that it is critical in ensuring both that we understand how things are going with his care as well as the social workers, who as you stated might see him once or twice a month. We have offered to make this information available to his social workers and they have shown interest in having it on hand for the next court date.

  3. Could we all seriously get together and push for a massive, complete total overhaul of the foster care system? (as well as the prison system and education system while we’re at it, massive changes are needed right now.)
    If I job like that doesn’t exist in the federal government I’d be happy to invent it, take it (Since i have no job and want one) and form a committee to DO this. Or to at least do the research, it’s long overdue, it needs to be done, there needs to be more federal oversite, never mind smaller government, these are important issues that both sides of the fence need to get on.
    How can we complete within the next 50 years let alone fight terrorism if we can’t take care of children who need it? If we can’t supply them with a better education, and if folks end up in jail, if we can’t do anymore than warehouse them into a college for making petty criminals even worse?
    I will push to make this exist now.

  4. I have been getting invited to hearings and been asked questions by the judge, but I had no idea a legal right to it had been codified. Thank you.

  5. I am invited to all court proceedings for my fk. There is one judge that alway tells me I care enough to show up so he gives me the chance to be heard. I think it would be great if it was a law that fp always had that chance.

  6. While a complete overhaul would seem a wonderful idea; all we really NEED is for case workers and judges to follow existing LAW!! The federal gov doesn’t get much right, why would we assign this to their keeping-oh wait, it already IS their responsibility!!

    We attended every hearing or court proceeding of our foster children, never asked permission, were never denied access. We had a top notch judge who actually ASKED fp how the kids were doing, IF the fp showed up.

    Great job Larry!!!

  7. Thank you so much for this info! My current foster kids’ case worker mentioned that we are allowed to go to their next court hearing, which was a first for us. We usually don’t find out about court dates until they are over.

    The problem with the way our current system is that they take a good idea like this, and make it into a complete mess. I think one of two things will happen with this- either states will just ignore it and keep doing things the way they already are, or they will use this to somehow make even more bureaucratic red tape for the kids in foster care. I hope I’m wrong about this, but after 4 years dealing with the foster care system I’m probably a little jaded…

  8. While we were highly encouraged not to go to court hearings, we’ve attended almost every one of them. There have been a few exceptions, but in all the cases, we’ve tried to go. The CW knows we’ll be there now, so she doesn’t say much about it. She knows we have a vested interest in what happens to these children. The judges usually don’t say much to us, but ask how the child is doing. One judge asked if the child was receiving enough therapy, or needed additional resources.
    We are hit or miss getting letter notification of the hearings. I think the dept tries to get them out, but we’ve not received several. However, b/c we go to court, and hound the CW till she tells if something is rescheduled, we always know when the next date is w/o the notification.

  9. Larry,

    Thanks so much for the info. The “right to be heard” was recently passed in my state, however the “right to be informed of court…” has been there since the passing of our state’s foster parents bill of rights. I had actually been looking for this spacific info because we had court with my fk’s yesterday. I was informed, invited, and asked to testify. However the case was continued. (shock!) Now I’ve just got to figure out if my “right to be heard” will only extend to my testimony, or if I will be able to give an independent opinion.

    Again, great job!

  10. Larry,

    Thank you for posting this!!! This is crucial to many foster parents.

    Its nice to know that you are hard at work keeping us abreast of breaking news!

  11. Thanks for posting this. I have attended all court hearings for my foster children but never been allowed to speak. It is about time they take the people who have these children 24/7 and ask how they are doing.

  12. Reading info on foster parents rights to speak on behalf of their child in placement I have never had the right to be heard in court for 5yrs. Is there such a law in the state of Pennsylvania.

  13. I would appreciate the help.

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