Legal Rights of Foster Parents

By Jennifer D. Melville
There is a great need for foster parents in the US
There is a great need for foster parents in the US

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, there were 510,000 children in foster care in the United States as of September 30, 2006. Foster care is defined as 24-hour care outside of a child’s home. The foster parent is not usually related to the child by blood and is paid for their services. They are supervised by a child welfare agency, and the period of time they care for the child varies widely. If you’re thinking of becoming a foster parent, there are some important things you should know about your legal rights. As rules and regulations change by state, check your state’s laws for specific information.

Custody

A foster parent doesn’t have legal custody of the children they care for; the welfare agency holds those rights. They share parenting responsibilities with this agency. In Wisconsin, the welfare agency cannot remove a child from their foster home, except in emergency cases, without 30 days notice so long as that child has been living in their foster home for 6 months or longer. The foster parents have the right to provide evidence at any hearing proving that removing the child from their care is not in the child’s best interests. If they succeed, the child may not be removed from the home.

Terminating the Natural Parent’s Rights

If a foster parent decides to adopt their foster child, it is possible for them to terminate the natural parent’s rights. A family attorney can help you through this process. It generally involves instituting adoption proceedings, instituting custody proceedings, receiving a judicial order, or having a third party guardian proceeding. Your attorney can help you decide which of these options works best for you and get you started in the adoption process.

Consent

Under California law, a foster parent has the same rights as a birth parent when it comes to giving their consent, except in cases of marriage, joining the military, obtaining a driver’s license, or out-of-the-ordinary medical and dental treatment.

The courts and the welfare agency control what the foster parent is allowed to do. While the parent has the right to make decisions regarding food, clothes and housing, the welfare agency may impose restrictions on things like punishing bad behavior and moving without agency approval.

Payment

Georgia’s Foster Parent Bill of Rights states that it is a foster parent’s right to receive timely financial reimbursements from the Department of Human Resources. Foster parents have the right to be made aware of any costs or expenses they can be reimbursed for.

In Mississippi, foster parents are guaranteed reimbursement for the child’s care based on the child’s age.

Right of Information

Georgia law gives foster parents the right to obtain information about their foster child without penalty. They have the right to discuss the child’s past prior to having the child placed in their home. They also have the right to information regarding how many times the child has been moved and why as well as the names and phone numbers of the previous foster parents.