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You have a right to make decisions about your child’s mental health treatment in foster care.

If your child is in foster care, you still have the right to be involved in his or her mental health treatment. Bronx Defenders lawyer Keren Farkas and social work supervisor Ariane Eigler explain how to advocate for yourself and your child.

Q: When children are in foster care, what rights do parents have to make decisions about their child’s mental health treatment?
A: Unless a parent’s rights are terminated, parents have the right to make decisions on their child’s upbringing, including their mental health care. Parents have the right to know who their child’s therapist is and what treatment they’re getting, and are usually entitled to meet with the treatment provider. They also have to give their consent for any psychiatric
medication, unless the treatment provider feels it’s critical. Then the foster care agency can ask the judge for an override.

But in practice, are parents looked to as the people who know most about their child? No. When children come into foster care, therapists usually speak to the parent who’s taking care of the child, and that ends up being the foster parent. There are cases where parents find out in court that their
child is going to therapy.

Plus, parents often feel that they have to agree to medication because they’ll look like a bad parent if they disagree with the psychiatrists. We see that a lot—a parent is not given any explanation for why a certain treatment
is being recommended or what kind of effects it could have, but if parents say no because they don’t have enough information, it’s often used against them.

Q: How can parents play an active role in their child’s treatment?
A: It’s important that parents are involved in the child’s treatment because usually the plan is to return the child to the parent, and any treatment should continue when the child returns home. Parents also know their children’s history.

We always suggest that parents request a meeting with the child’s treatment team. Bring an advocate, family member, or friend if it makes you feel more comfortable. Or, if you have your own therapist, ask if it makes sense to get
your therapist involved. Come in with a list of questions about the treatment being recommended and how you can play a role. You can ask for family therapy, which is often the most helpful thing for reunification.

If medication is recommended, come in with questions about side effects, how long it will take to take effect, what will they try if it doesn’t seem to be working, etc. If you feel uncomfortable with your child’s treatment plan, talk to your attorney and have the issue raised in court.

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