Parents’ relationships with foster parents affect their cases.
Recent research suggests that children in foster care who are placed with relatives do better than those placed with foster families. According to a study published in the journal Families in Society, children in kinship care endure fewer moves from home to home, are less likely to remain in care long-term (but also less likely to be reunified with their parents), and are less likely to end up in the juvenile justice system. A 2005 study of former foster youth also found that youth are at risk of abuse while in foster care;
nearly one-third of former foster youth in the study reported that they had been abused by a foster parent or another adult in a foster home.
Hannah Roman, a lawyer at the Brooklyn Family Defense Project, explains how parents’ relationships with their children’s foster parents can affect
their case and how parents can get their children placed with relatives.
Q: What impact does the relationship between the parent and foster parent have on a case?
A: The impact is huge, it really is, because the foster parent’s attitude toward you has an impact on the quality of your visits and your relationship with your child.
If your child is upset after visits or expresses reluctance to visit you, a supportive foster parent might encourage your child and communicate with you about your child’s needs. An unsupportive foster parent might say, “She doesn’t want to go,” and that can affect your case.
Many times relatives are approved to supervise visits and allow parents to visit their children at the home. (Non-kin also can choose to supervise visits at their homes, but that’s rare.) At the caregiver’s home, you get to spend much more time with your children and you can visit at the park or go to the movies—it’s more like normal life. But you have to remember that this person is reporting to the agency on the quality of your visits. So if you have a bad relationship, and they report that the visits are not going well, that gets talked about in court.
Q: How can parents get a child placed with a relative?
A: In New York City, the judge will almost always place your child with a relative or with someone the child already knows, if that’s possible. When your child goes into care, you should let your lawyer know about anyone who might be able to care for your child.
Even if your child was initially placed with strangers, you can ask for your
child to be moved to family. You also can request that the judge make the placement with a relative a “restrictive remand,” which means that the agency must come back to court if it wants to move the child from that particular foster parent. Otherwise, an agency can just move the child.
A child can be temporarily placed with kin who are not yet licensed as foster parents. If the family can’t be certified as a foster home, the judge can still allow the child to stay with the family on “parole status.” That means the child is not technically in foster care (and the family does not receive a foster care subsidy) but the child is still removed from you and the court must authorize reunification.
However, if you are able to choose a relative to care for your children, you should think through: “Do I really have a good relationship with this person? Will this person help me get my child back?” Sometimes, kin are
not supportive. So be cautious about who you trust to care for your children and talk to your lawyer about your concerns.
Q: What steps can a parent take if she’s worried about how the foster parent is treating her child?
A: Parents should bring up their concerns with the agency worker. It can be hard to do that. Many parents and agency workers don’t have great
relationships and workers can be dismissive. But you can ask the worker
to talk to the foster parent about your concerns.
If you feel comfortable, you can ask for a conference with the worker and foster parent. In New York City, many lawyers work on a team with social workers and parent advocates who could attend the conference. As a lawyer, I’d prefer if someone from my office was with the parent at a
If something serious happens to your child in care, and the agency doesn’t
act on it, tell your lawyer. Your lawyer can ask for the child to be moved. You also want to make sure that the child’s lawyer knows that your child was harmed. Have your lawyer call the child’s lawyer.
Q: How can parents whose rights may be terminated help to find a safe home for their children?
A: If it looks like your rights may be terminated, you should talk to your lawyer about your options. If you have a relative who can care for your child without relying financially on an adoption subsidy, you can see if the relative might take custody or become the legal guardian of your
child. This is a much better option because your rights are not terminated.
You may also want to consider a “conditional surrender,” which means
that you agree to surrender your parental rights only under certain conditions. For example, you could surrender your rights only if a child is adopted by a certain person, and you could agree to contact with your child after the adoption. Under a conditional surrender, the termination can be undone if the conditions are not met. This is a good option if you believe your child is in a safe home and the adoptive parent will allow you and your child to stay connected.