One of the most important things you will learn as a foster parent is an understanding of the rules and regulations that govern foster parenting in your state. This includes the rules that define your role as a foster parent and the statutory rights that you may seek to help you ensure that the best interests of the child in your care are given priority. One of these rights is intervening or petitioning for de facto parent status with the court system.
In many cases foster parents do not have the right to speak in open court concerning their foster child—filing for these rights will allow you to speak and testify on the child's behalf.
Intervening often allows you access to court reports and documents that you may not have had access to previously.
It may also give you the right to attorney representation (paid for by you) and the right to call witnesses or ask for evaluations such as bonding studies or psychological examinations.
It is also important to keep the following in mind before taking such steps:
What is going on in your case?
It is important to remember that after ensuring the safety and health of a child, the first goal in almost every foster care situation is reunification with parents or other extended family members. Your job as a foster parent is to support this goal to the best of your ability.
Some states prevent intervention until children have been in your care a year or more, while others allow it after a 90-day period.
Unless you are at a point where your foster children are close to returning home, being placed in another situation that you feel is unsafe, or otherwise a detriment, intervention would not be to you or the child's benefit.
Is the action going to be viewed as Adversarial?
In many states, intervention or de facto parent status is viewed as part of the normal court process and county or private agencies (such as Our Children's Homestead) view it as par for the course and even encourage it. In other states, it can be viewed as an adversarial process with the foster parents taking sides against the agency and their case plan.
If you live in a state where it may be viewed as a negative action, you may place your license and ability to foster in jeopardy. This can be something you need to carefully consider, especially if you suspect reunification will fail and the children will return to care.
You should also consider your relationship with the biological family. If you have worked hard to create a strong bond, you may be putting in at risk if you place yourself in direct opposition to the parents.
What is your goal?
One of the most important parts of the intervention process is figuring out what your goal and motivation is. You need to weigh your personal feelings about your foster child with what is in their best interests. Intervening to prevent children from returning to safe and healthy biological parents who have completed their case plan just because you love the children is not in their best interest. Intervening in a case where a child is being returned to a clearly dangerous situation or to non-family members who have no bond to the child would be a different story.
In most cases, intervention is a straightforward process that requires nothing more than the filing of paperwork with the court for review. Depending on your state's process, this may require the services of an attorney but in many cases, it is something you can complete and do on your own.