Foster care is a temporary living situation for children whose parents cannot take care of them. Foster care is meant to be a short-term solution that ends once a parent gets their life back on track.
Children needing foster care have been removed from their family homes and placed under the state’s care and supervision. Their needs are complex:
- Typically, these children will have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect. As a result, these children are removed from their parents’ care and placed into foster care
- The children may have extensive emotional, behavioral, or academic needs
- Children may be part of a sibling group that needs to be placed together or have siblings and other loved ones with whom they need to maintain connections.
While in foster care, children may live with foster families, relatives, or in group facilities.
Who Are Foster Parents?
Foster parents are adults who temporarily step in to raise children who have been abused or neglected or whose biological parents are unable to care for them. Foster parents try to give each child in their care as much affection and care as possible while at the same time preparing them to be (1) reunited with their family or (2) adopted. Foster parents are state licensed and trained. They are sometimes — but not always — related to the children in their care.
Foster parents share decision-making rights with the state. This is generally done through state child protective services. A foster parent can make major legal decisions involving the child, but the family court must generally approve them.
Foster parents are responsible for the day-to-day responsibilities of the child, such as:
- Feeding and clothing the child
- Monitoring their behavior
- Ensuring their safety and protection
- Overseeing their educational needs and making sure they attend school
- Obtaining medical and emotional therapy and treatment for the child
- Keeping them in contact with siblings or other family members from whom they have been separated
- Providing various other necessities and basics
Are There Different Types of Foster Care?
There are a few different types of foster care arrangements. These consist of:
- Traditional foster care: This is care provided by someone unrelated to the child; typically, the foster care parent has never met the child before placement. Foster care providers are trained professionals and are paid to be responsible for the child’s needs, as described above
- Kinship Care: This type of foster care differs from traditional foster care in that kinship care places the child with a guardian who has an established connection with the child. Kinship care benefits largely consist of the fact that it is a unique opportunity for the child to be properly cared for without fully separating the child from their family
- Group Homes: A group home is a residential facility for foster care. Non-profit organizations, government agencies, or private companies often run these facilities. Group homes are designed to provide a safe, comfortable, and supportive living environment. In many states, group home arrangements are being phased out in favor of kinship care arrangements.
What are Some Types of Legal Issues Associated with Foster Care?
Foster care is a complex subject involving various legal issues and concerns. Important legal issues commonly associated with foster care may include:
- Custody Rights: As mentioned above, custody rights generally lie with the state. Usually, the foster parent acts to secure basic provisions and perform daily duties. There are sometimes disputes between the foster care provider and the state concerning what services the foster care provider is required to provide
- Adoption: Many foster care situations eventually lead to adoption by either the foster parents or another person seeking to adopt a child. “Foster to adopt” occurs when the child is placed in foster care with the intention that they will be adopted soon after that by the foster parents. Adoption is a legal process and can be complex
- Abuse: Many children are placed in a foster home due to instances of previous abuse by a parent. Unfortunately, abuse takes place in foster homes and group homes as well, especially in cases where the foster parents or the group home have not been closely monitored
What are the Requirements and Rights of Foster Parents?
Each state has laws describing the requirements to be a foster parent, usually including the following:
- They must be at least 21 years of age
- They must have a steady source of income
- They must not have any felony convictions
- They must submit to assessments by close family members
- They must participate in required parental training instruction or courses.
- They must submit to an inspection of their home to ensure that the home is suitable for children (e.g., child-proofed) and has space for the child to live.
Concerning the requirement that the foster parent has a regular source of income, there is no actual set income level that a foster parent must meet. If extra expenses should arise (e.g., paying for daycare or after-school activities), however, a foster parent should be able to cover them. Also, while a foster parent is normally allowed to work outside of the home, their work arrangement must not interfere with a child’s upbringing.
According to state statutes, Foster parents’ rights under the laws will also vary. They may also vary depending on their interactions with a welfare agency or other similar agency. In this unique arrangement, it is the welfare agency that actually has legal custody of the child. This means the welfare agency makes all the important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. These include choices involving education, health care treatments, and religious decisions.
A foster parent usually has rights that are comparable to those of a natural parent, plus several of the following:
- Receive payment for their parental services
- Maintain the integrity or arrangement of their own family unit
- Contract certain rights in agreement with a welfare agency
- Punish the child to the same extent a natural parent would be able to
- They can potentially be granted immunity from the child’s criminal or civil actions
- In some cases, they can possibly terminate the rights of a natural parent
One important thing to know about foster parental rights is that a welfare agency can terminate them at any time.
Remember, each state has its own requirements, and while many overlap or are similar, your state may have unique requirements that it doesn’t share with other states. If you wish to become a foster parent, check your state’s requirements and see if you qualify. This is one area where a knowledgeable guardianship or family law attorney can be very helpful.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Foster Care Arrangement?
As you can see, foster care arrangements can involve many different laws and regulations and are subject to close monitoring by the state. You may need to hire a local guardianship lawyer if you have any legal issues, inquiries, or conflicts involving foster care and its various issues.
Foster care requires a lot of interaction with the state; hiring a guardianship lawyer near you can help ensure that you comply with state requirements. Also, if you need to file any document with the court or if you need to appear in court, your lawyer can assist you at those times and provide representation for you as well.