Vol. 13, No. 2 • May 2009

Advice for Foster Parents about Going to Court

When it comes to court, foster parents have a vital role to play. Although judges have the responsibility to make decisions about children, they can only make good decisions if they receive good information. Foster parents can have a huge impact on the lives and welfare of children by attending court and sharing information about the children in their homes.

Your Rights
Foster parents have a legal right to be notified of the following important court hearings for children in foster care. Foster parents also have a legal right to participate in these hearings.

  • Review Hearings. Held every six months until the child is in a permanent home and the case is closed. Can be combined with Permanency hearings.
  • Permanency Hearings. Must be held by the twelfth month the child is in care and every six months thereafter. Can be combined with Review hearings.
  • Post-TPR Review Hearings. If termination of parental rights occurs, these hearings are held every six months until the child is in a permanent home and the case is closed.

Other Important Hearings
Although they do not have a right to be notified or to participate in them, there are two other types of court hearings that foster parents are often involved in:

  • Termination of Parental Rights Hearings (TPR). These occur only when necessary. Foster parents may be called as witnesses during Termination of Parental Rights hearings, especially if they have done shared parenting or are willing to adopt.
  • Adoption Finalization or Permanent Guardianship Hearings. These complete the process of establishing a new, legal, permanent home for a child. (Note: Adoption hearings are totally separate from the juvenile court process in North Carolina and done before the clerk of court. Guardianship is granted during a review and/or permanency planning hearing.)

Stay Informed and Know Your Role
It is very important for you to stay informed about court hearings and ensure that your voice is heard throughout the process. You can also play an important role in making sure that the children’s voices are heard at every step along the way. If you have questions about the court proceedings or schedule of hearings, talk to your social worker.

Participating in the Court Process
Remember, you are an important part of the professional team and your input at every decision point is essential to ensuring that the best interests of the child will be met. It is also understandable to feel nervous about participating in court. Being prepared will help you feel less nervous. Here are some tips to help you be an effective participant in the court process.

Tips for Participating in Court

  • Stay informed about court dates and times. Speak up and ask for information if you do not feel you are getting what you need.
  • Ask the social worker and attorneys involved with the case to explain the purpose of each hearing to you and to help you understand your role.
  • Always arrive at least 15-30 minutes early for court hearings to allow time to get through security and find the correct courtroom.
  • Bring the child or children whose hearing you are attending, but make child care arrangements for other children in your care.
  • Dress professionally.
  • Bring records with you. This can include notes you have made about the child’s progress while in your care, a log of doctor’s appointments, school records, and notes related to visits with the birth family.
  • Keep in mind that any written materials you bring may be requested by and copied by all attorneys for the official record.
  • When you speak, speak slowly, clearly and using clear and professional language. Give all of your answers out loud, do not simply nod or shake your head. Refer to the judge as “Your Honor.”
  • Be as clear and complete as possible when responding to questions or offering information about the child so that the judge will have adequate information upon which to make a decision.
  • Avoid appearing to be hostile to or against the birth family. The court often listens best to foster parents who have truly attempted to work with birth families and who are not focused on a personal objective/agenda (e.g., getting the child to stay permanently in their home).
  • When you are asked to give sworn testimony, make sure you have discussed this with the attorney and you understand what this means.
  • If your religious beliefs prevent you from taking an oath, inform the lawyers and social worker ahead of time so that an alternate pledge can be arranged.
  • Prepare yourself by reviewing the list of common questions (see below).
  • Talk to other foster parents about their experiences in court.
  • Relax—remember, you are an important part of the team!

Adapted from New York State Citizens’ Coalition for Children, 2006 (http://nysccc.org/)

Common Questions Foster Parents
Are Asked in Court

How long have you been a foster parent, and how many children have you cared for?

How long have you known this particular child? Did you have a relationship with this child before you became her foster parent?

Do you have any special training or experience related to caring for children?

What was the physical and emotional condition of this child when she first came into your home?

What changes have you noticed in the child’s behavior, emotional state, or physical condition since being in your home?

Describe the child’s typical day.

Describe your relationship with the child’s birth parents.

Have you observed the child interacting with her parents? Can you describe the interaction? You may be asked to give specific dates or details for these observations.

Describe the nature of the child’s contact with the birth parents—such as dates and length of visits, phone calls, gifts, etc.

How does the child react and/or behave before and after contact with her birth parents?

How is the child doing in school?

How is the child’s health? When was the last time the child went to the doctor?

What other activities (such as sports, recreation, music, church, social) is the child involved in?

What concerns do you have?

If reunification does not happen for this child, are you interested in making a permanent commitment to the child through adoption or guardianship?

Adapted from New York State Citizens’ Coalition for Children, 2006 (http://nysccc.org/)

Copyright � 2009 Jordan Institute for Families