The law requires that a termination of parental rights be filed if the child has been an out-of-home ward for 12 consecutive months or 15 of the past 22 months. Federal law sets the starting point toward this deadline as the earlier of two dates: either the date of the first judicial finding of abuse or 60 days after the child is removed from the home. What happens if the state does not follow the law about a foster child? What can be done? How does a foster parent who is willing to adopt get the state to move?
The first step in obtaining compliance is to find a good attorney. Foster/adopt parents want someone who is knowledgeable and experienced in foster care and adoption. Whether incorporating a business, planning an estate, or suing for personal injury, one wants to be represented by someone who has expertise in that particular area. The same applies to adoptions from foster care.
Foster parents need an attorney who is familiar with the state and federal laws. The attorney should also be familiar with agency and state policies and know the people in the system. Every state has thick policy manuals which cover such topics as bonding, adoption, subsidies, and a definition of special needs. They also want an attorney with a good reputation for being successful. Ask other foster parents or your state organization to recommend a winner.
Foster parents and their attorney have three choices for action. The first choice might be to request a case conference. Have your attorney attend with you. See if you can convince the child welfare department to follow the law.
A second choice would be to file a “motion to intervene” in court. Since foster parents do not normally have legal standing, you must ask the court’s permission to become a party, file a motion, and be heard.
If you want the child in your care to stay with you always, file to adopt. That gives you legal standing to make your case. The court may have leeway to terminate parental rights as a part of the adoption proceeding.