- What Is Foster Care?
- How Does a Child Enter Foster Care?
- Where Is the Child Placed?
- How Long Does the Child Stay in Foster Care?
- Do the Parents Need to Have a Lawyer Represent Them?
- What Happens While the Child Is in Foster Care?
- What Happens When Parents Do Not Wish to Have Their Children Return Home, or Cannot Provide Proper Care for Their Children?
A "foster child" is a child who has been placed in the care and custody of the Child Protective Agency, or an authorized child-care agency for either short-term or long-term care. This care is often with a "foster family", or with a group home or other facility to meet other needs of the child. The agency has physical custody of the child, but the parent continues to have legal rights to the child.
How Does a Child Enter Foster Care?
A child may be placed in foster care voluntarily, at the request of his or her parents or legal guardian. A child may also enter foster care by order of the court. The court may order that the child be placed in the care of an agency if it finds that the child has been abused or neglected or is at risk of such harm, or when a child's behavior is beyond the control of those responsible for his or her care. A child may also be removed from his or her home by a child-protective agency because of an emergency in the home.
Where is the Child Placed?
The child may be placed with foster parents in their home, in a group home, or in an institution, depending upon the child's needs and the available foster care settings. Instead of foster care, a child may be placed in the care of a relative or another suitable person.
How Long Does the Child Stay in Foster Care?
Placement may be temporary, with the child eventually returning to his or her parents or legal guardian, or may result in the child being adopted by another family.
When a child is voluntarily placed into foster care by a parent or guardian, that person signs a "Voluntary Placement Agreement" transferring the care and custody of the child to an agency. If the child is expected to remain in foster care for more than 30 days, the Child Protective Agency must file a petition asking the court to approve the placement and the agency's plan for the child's future. The agreement may specify how long the child is to remain in foster care, or the period of time may be left open. The court then hears testimony from the persons who signed the agreement and from the agency, and decides whether the agreement is valid, whether foster care is appropriate for the child, and how long the child should remain in foster care.
Do the Parents Need to Have a Lawyer Represent Them?
The parents or guardian of the child may represent themselves without a lawyer, or may hire a lawyer to represent them. If the parents or guardian cannot afford to hire lawyers, they have the right to have the court appoint lawyers for them at no cost.
What Happens While the Child Is in Foster Care?
The court may order the child-protective agency or child-care agency to provide services or assistance to the child and the child's family, including visitation with the child and counseling for the family, while the child is in foster care.
After a child has been in placement for the time period ordered, the parents may file a petition asking the court to review the child's placement. After a court hearing, the court may return the child to his or her home or extend the placement period.
If the child remains in foster care for a year, the agency must file a petition asking the court to review the child's situation, and extend the placement if appropriate.
What Happens When Parents Do Not Wish to Have Their Children Return Home, or Cannot Provide Proper Care for Their Children?
Parents may voluntarily agree to have their children adopted by signing a document called a "Surrender", giving up their rights as parents. Or the agency may file a petition asking the court to hold a hearing to determine if the court should "terminate" (end) the parents' rights. If the court finds that the child has been abandoned, permanently neglected, or severely or repeatedly abused, or that the parents are unable to properly care for the child because of mental illness or retardation, the court may permanently end the parents' rights to the child and give custody and guardianship of the child to the Child Protective Agency. A child may then be adopted by the foster parents, or the agency may seek another suitable permanent home for the child.