Vol. 18, No. 1 • November 2013

NC Passes New Laws Affecting Foster Parents

by Deana K. Fleming, Associate Counsel, NC Guardian ad Litem Program

Sometimes changes are made to state and federal laws that have a direct impact on foster and adoptive parents. This article describes laws passed in 2013 by the legislature in North Carolina that may be of particular interest to you.

Changes Related to Adoption by Foster Parents
When it enacted House Bill 350 (Session Law 2013-129) during the 2013 Legislative Session, the North Carolina General Assembly amended several provisions of the Juvenile Code governing abuse, neglect, dependency, and termination of parental rights cases, including G.S. 7B-1112.1, which governs the selection of adoptive parents by a county department of social services (DSS). Recognizing that foster parents are often interested in adopting children in foster care who become eligible for adoption, the legislature enacted certain procedural safeguards related to due process for foster parents.

Foster parents must now be given notice and have a right to be heard in court if they want to adopt but are not selected.

In the new legislation, the process of selecting adoptive parents remains the responsibility and within the discretion of DSS or the agency that has legal custody of a child. However, the new law states that:

  • DSS must consider interested foster parents. When it selects adoptive parents for a child in foster care child, the DSS agency must consider current placement providers, if those placement providers want to adopt the child.
  • DSS must notify foster parents of adoption decisions. When the adoption selection committee at DSS reaches a decision, the agency has ten (10) days to notify foster parents that adoptive parents have been selected.
  • If they are not selected, foster parents have a right to be heard in court. If the foster parents want to adopt but are not selected by DSS, they can file a motion to be heard in juvenile court. They have ten (10) days from the date they were notified of the adoption committee's decision to file this motion. The DSS will provide a copy of a motion for review to the foster parents; the foster parents must then complete and file the motion with the juvenile court for a hearing. If they file this motion, the child may not be moved to the proposed adoptive home until after the court hearing.

While this amendment gives the foster parent notice and an opportunity to be heard in court, it does not make the foster parent a party to the juvenile case. When the juvenile court judge hears the motion filed by a foster parent, the judge will consider the recommendations of DSS, the guardian ad litem, and other facts related to the selection of adoptive parents. The judge then determines whether the proposed adoptive placement is in the child's best interest. If the judge determines the proposed adoptive placement is not in the child's best interest, the adoption petition is not filed and the adoption selection committee must reconvene to make a new selection. If foster parents who wish to adopt are again not selected, the procedure starts over. However, legislative intent indicates DSS agencies should give serious consideration to foster parents who wish to adopt, unless the adoption is not in the child's best interest.

This legislation went into effect October 1, 2013 and applies to cases filed or pending after that date.

Link to the legislation: http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/House/PDF/H350v4.pdf (Scroll down to page 18, section 36)

Foster Care Children's Bill of Rights

Thanks in part to lobbying by SaySo (Strong Able Youth Speaking Out), the legislature amended G.S. 131D-10.1 to provide for a Foster Care Children's Bill of Rights as set forth below:

  1. A safe foster home free of violence, abuse, neglect, and danger.
  2. First priority regarding placement in a home with siblings.
  3. The ability to communicate with the assigned social worker or case worker overseeing the child's case and have calls made to the social worker or case worker returned within a reasonable period of time.
  4. Allowing the child to remain enrolled in the school the child attended before being placed in foster care, if at all possible.
  5. Having a social worker, when a child is removed from the home, to immediately begin conducting an investigation to identify and locate all grandparents, adult siblings, and other adult relatives of the child to provide those persons with specific information and explanation of various options to participate in placement of a child.
  6. Participation in school extracurricular activities, community events, and religious practices.
  7. Communication with the biological parents if the child placed in foster care receives any immunizations and whether any additional immunizations are needed if the child will be transitioning back into a home with his or her biological parents.
  8. Establishing and having access to a bank or savings account in accordance with State laws and federal regulations.
  9. Obtaining identification and permanent documents, including a birth certificate, social security card, and health records by the age of 16, to the extent allowed by federal and State law.
  10. The use of appropriate communication measures to maintain contact with siblings if the child placed in foster care is separated from his or her siblings.
  11. Meaningful participation in a transition plan for those phasing out of foster care, including participation in family team, treatment team, court, and school meetings.

It is important to note that a violation of this section does not create a legal cause of action by a foster child against the State, the Division of Social Services, or the foster care provider. However, this Bill of Rights will be implemented in policy.

This Act became effective July 23, 2013.

Link to legislation: http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/House/PDF/H510v5.pdf

Note: The rights of children in foster care in North Carolina are also outlined in section 10A NCAC 70E .1101 of our state's administrative code, which can be found online at http://reports.oah.state.nc.us/ncac/title%2010a%20-%20health%20and%20human%20services/chapter%2070%20-%20children%27s%20services/subchapter%20e/10a%20ncac%2070e%20.1101.pdf

To view references cited in this and other articles in this issue, click here.

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~