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Kinship Caregivers and the Child Welfare System
Series: Factsheets for Families|
Child Welfare Information Gateway |
|Year Published: 2010|
Involvement of the Courts
Kin caregivers who are part of the foster care system are likely to have some involvement with the court—in most States, this occurs in a family or juvenile court.4 In cases in which the children have been removed from their parents because a parent has been accused of child abuse, neglect, or abandonment, the following steps may happen:
- Child protective services investigators follow up on the report of child abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
- If the investigators find enough evidence, they may decide to remove the children from their home for their own safety. The children may be placed with kin, who then have physical custody.
- There is a preliminary hearing (sometimes called an emergency removal or a shelter care hearing) before a judge. The investigator from the child welfare agency presents evidence for the legal finding of abuse or neglect, and the court determines whether to temporarily allow the children to be placed elsewhere, such as with the kin caregiver, until the trial.
- At the trial (also called the "adjudicatory hearing"), the judge decides whether there is enough evidence to prove that child abuse, neglect, or abandonment actually happened.
- If the judge decides that the child or children should be removed from the parents, even temporarily, a dispositional hearing may also take place at this time. At this hearing, the judge determines where the children will live for the time being and who will have legal custody of them. For instance, the children may be taken into the custody of the State child welfare agency (legal custody) and then placed with kin (physical custody) in kinship foster care.
- At least every 6 months after that, there will be review hearings before the judge to determine how the parents are progressing with their service plan (for treatment, parenting classes, or other requirements), how the children are doing in the home of their kin caregiver, and whether the service plan or goals for the children should be revised.
- In addition to the review hearings, a permanency hearing is held 12 to 14 months after a child is removed from the home and every 12 months after that. At this hearing, the judge makes decisions about where the child will live permanently. The permanency hearing in court may involve a number of individuals with an interest in the child, including parents, caseworkers, relatives, and foster care providers. Many of these parties will have lawyers, and at least one person will be appointed to represent the best interests of the child. This representative may be a lawyer, a guardian ad litem (usually a lawyer), or a community volunteer called a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). The child may have one or more of these representatives, depending on the State's practice.
- Another type of hearing that may or may not occur is a termination of parental rights hearing. Under the Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), there is a specific timeframe for parents to meet the goals in their service plan in order for their children to move back home with them. If parents are unable to do this and children spend 15 out of 22 months in foster care, the child welfare agency is required to seek termination of parental rights or to document their reasons for requesting a time extension. When parents' rights are terminated in court, the parents no longer have any legal relationship to the child, and the child is free to be adopted by someone else. However, if the child is living with a relative and the State has decided that this is an acceptable permanency plan, then the agency does not need to ask the court to terminate the parents' rights.
Whenever possible, grandparents or other relative caregivers should make arrangements to attend court hearings; they may even be asked to testify at them. It is important for kin caregivers to give their view of the situation and to get a full understanding of the court's decisions. It is also important for the caregiver to be there to support the children if they appear before the judge.
- When and where is the hearing?
- Is this a permanency hearing or a review hearing?
- What will be decided at the hearing?
- Who will be present?
- Who will have a lawyer?
- Do I need a lawyer? If so, who can help me find one?
- Who will represent the child or children? May I speak to that person?
- May I speak at the hearing?
- What is the schedule of future hearings?
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