In general, foster care refers to a type of living arrangement where a child is placed under the supervision of someone other than the child’s parents. This often occurs where a child’s parents may be unavailable, not able to care for the child, or if they cannot be located. The person who then becomes responsible for the child is known as a “foster parent.”
A foster parent is typically an adult who, despite having no blood or legal ties to a child, cares for and raises that child under the direction or supervision of a welfare agency.
Foster parents can either be independent caregivers, or they may run something called a group home. In either scenario, foster parents are responsible for minors and share legal rights and custody with the state.
Additionally, a foster parent will usually receive some type of monetary compensation for looking after the child or group of children.
The legal requirements for becoming a foster parent vary widely from state to state. In general, to qualify as a foster parent, an individual must:
- Be at least 21 years old;
- Have a steady, regular source of income;
- Submit to an assessment of all close family members;
- Not have been convicted of any felonies; and
- Agree to participate in mandatory parent training courses.
In regard to the regular source of income requirement, 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.
In the eyes of the law, a foster parent has a unique relationship with a child. This is because foster parents seem and act similar to “loco parentis” (i.e., “in the place of a parent”). However, in reality, they share parental responsibilities with a welfare agency or the state.
In this unique arrangement, it is the welfare agency who actually has legal custody of the child. This means that the welfare agency makes all of the important decisions regarding the upbringing of the child. These include choices involving education, health care treatments, and religious decisions.
In contrast, a foster parent usually has rights that are comparable to those of a natural parent, plus several of the following:
- They can preserve the integrity of their own family unit;
- Contract for rights stemming from an agreement with the welfare agency;
- Receive payments for their services and care of the child;
- Punish the child to the same extent that a parent can;
- They can potentially be granted immunity from the child’s criminal or civil actions; and
- In some cases, they can possibly terminate the rights of a natural parent.
One important thing to know about foster parental rights is that they can be terminated by a welfare agency at any time. Also, there are some situations where the rights of a foster parent are less than those of a natural parent’s rights, but these situations vary by case.
In some states, foster parents have the right to terminate a natural parent’s rights. In order to terminate the rights of a natural parent, a foster parent must:
- Begin the adoption process;
- Initiate custody proceedings;
- Obtain a judicial court order; and
- Become a third party guardian or a conservator, via a conservatorship proceeding.
Since many of these steps require having an attorney, it may be in a foster parent’s best interest to contact a family lawyer first to discuss the available options and whether any state laws will interfere with the process.
If you believe your rights as a foster parent have been violated or you are trying to terminate a natural parent’s rights, you should strongly consider contacting a family lawyer.
A family lawyer will be able to properly explain the issues at hand and can help you to protect your rights and interests. Additionally, since foster care involves working with the state or child welfare agencies to care for a child, having a lawyer can make resolving any issues go much quicker and smoother.
Finally, if you need to file any documents or appear in court, a lawyer can assist you in preparing for those filings, as well as provide you with representation for your claim. They can also help explain any of the specific details about the laws in your area if you have questions about them.