When Foster Parents Need an Attorney

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When court looms and the consequences of losing are unacceptable, don’t take a chance. Trying to save money should not be an option. Foster parents need a spokesperson who can effectively negotiate the legal labyrinth. They need a knowledgeable and successful attorney.

Losing a child to whom you are bonded and hoped to adopt is one such occasion. A long-lost relative may emerge at the last minute involving a change in the permanency plan or precipitating a contested adoption. The child welfare department may have found a permanent home other than yours who will accept a minimal payment of per diem. In these cases, the welfare department is not on your side. Take nothing for granted. Adoption from foster care is a complicated web, involving multiple parties, many different laws and welfare policies, subsidies, kin-come-lately, and other issues. You need to have your own attorney.

When you anticipate or have been charged with child abuse is a second time you need legal representation. No matter how absurd the charges appear, you must take the them seriously. Charges of child abuse can be substantiated for mere policy violations. If substantiated, they can cost you your license and your job in child care. This is no time to roll the dice. The consequences of losing may be very expensive financially and /or break your heart.

Other less consequential but important occasions may arise when you want a spokesperson. Placement issues are a frequent concern. A child is removed from your home against your own good judgment. Foster care may have dragged on past the mandated deadlines. Delays in working toward permanence may need to be addressed. Serious disagreements about the case plan itself that involve visitation, education, medical care and other important matters may surface. As a foster parent, it is your duty to advocate for the children in your care. A knowledgeable attorney may be invaluable in helping you intervene in the welfare and court systems.

Unfortunately, foster parents have been hesitant to speak out in fear of being labeled a troublemaker and blackballed. They fear that the agency may remove the child or stop any future placements. In fact, the opposite may be true. Foster parents who are appropriately assertive are more apt to be fully heard. To have an attorney to speak for you or to back you up may make the difference.

When hiring an attorney, you want someone who is knowledgeable and experienced in your area of concern. Whether you are incorporating a business, planning an estate, or suing for personal injury, you want to be represented by someone with expertise in that area. The same applies to foster care and adoption from foster care. You want someone who is familiar with the agency policies, the state and federal laws, and who knows the people in the system.

How do you find a good attorney? Personal recommendations are the best way. Ask your fellow foster parents. Were they pleased with the attorney who represented them? Check with you state foster parent association. They may have a last of knowledgeable attorneys who have been successful.

Be wary of recommendations from the child welfare department. They often have a different agenda. For example, they may wish to save money on the subsidies. They may favor a blood relative as a permanency solution. In some states, they have told the foster parents that their recommended attorneys are “free,” since they are eligible for the federal post-adoption reimbursement of $1500.00. In fact, you need not go through the welfare department for attorneys that they approve. You are entitled to the same reimbursement if you hire your own attorney.

When you meet with your attorney, explain your problem clearly. Whether it be a licensing issue, a desire to adopt, or something else, be ready to give details. Write out everything and have this information available. Then explain the result you would like to see achieved. Once you have explained your situation, your attorney may have a few questions. You should be ready with some questions of your own. Can this person help me with my problem? How much does he charge? Has he handled any other cases like mine? How many? What was the result?

Once you have hired an attorney, you need to keep him or her informed. Make sure your attorney has a copy of every document concerned with your child. Let your attorney sort through it all to determine what might prove helpful. Continue to relay all contacts with the welfare department and birth parents.

The strongest ingredient that can turn your plea into a winning case is a well-documented daily journal. Include everything, the more information, the better. You never know what problems may develop and what information may be useful. Stay in contact with your attorney and work together. Be cautious what you say to anyone else about your case. Letting your attorney speak for you in any negotiations is usually best.

A knowledgeable and competent attorney is essential when you must go to court on a matter you cannot afford to lose. Hire an attorney as soon as you plan to adopt and when you have been accused of child abuse. Give such situations your best and full effort.


James Kenny, PhD's picture

You have raised a critical question of importance to many foster parents who have been accused of abuse or neglect. Three things you must do. First, hire an attorney. Don’t wait. Select one who is familiar with foster care laws and policies, and with civil lawsuits for damages. Second, write everything down and continue to do so as you recall facts surrounding the accident. All foster parents should keep a daily diary for this and other reasons. Third, check about possible liability coverage as foster parents. In Indiana, foster parents who belong to the state organization are covered. Your agency may be covered. Your homeowner’s policy may provide coverage. States and child-placement agencies should provide liability coverage for foster parents. Instead, to save money, they take advantage of our willingness to help others. Good luck! James Kenny, PhD
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