Representing Foster Parents In Juvenile Neglect And Abuse Cases

The child welfare system in Illinois places a great amount of trust and responsibility in foster parents who take neglected or abused children into their homes. Because one of the over-riding themes of these cases is the efficient achievement of 'permanency' for the affected minor, for pre-adoptive foster placements there are inherent expectations placed that demand a capacity for immense selflessness. On one hand, the foster parent is given the absolute legal, ethical and human obligation to facilitate a reunion between the child and the natural parent. On the other hand - simultaneously under the DCFS concept of 'parallel planning' - the foster parent is supposed to prepare for the possibility of the neglected or abused child to become a permanent part of their family by way of adoption. All the while, the foster parent is providing a home and taking care of the foster child for months if not years; bonds are established and love is felt by both child and parent.

The court system - with its multifaceted approach to the determination of what is in the best interests of involved minors - is not always considerate or compassionate to foster parents. Busy prosecutors are not always receptive to queries from foster parents and are not able or obligated to give legal advice to them. Natural parents' attorneys - often over-worked public defenders - often (and unfairly) view foster parents as hostile to their clients' long term prognoses as to the return home of an abused or neglected minor. Judges rarely address foster parents in the courtroom, preferring to hear from attorneys or child welfare representatives. For a foster parent, the juvenile court system can be confusing at best, daunting or vexing at worst.

However, although they are rarely notified of the fact, foster parents are not without legal rights and remedies under Illinois law. Included in those rights is:

  • The right to be heard by the court.
  • The right to reasonable notice of court dates and proceedings.
  • The right to appeal ("mandamus") any denial of the above rights by a court.
  • Under some circumstances, the ability to intervene and become a full party to the action with all rights to discovery, pleading, presenting evidence and examining witnesses.
  • The right to intervene in the event that a foster placement has been in place for over a year and is sought to be terminated.
  • The right to be treated with dignity, respect and consideration as a professional member of the child welfare team.

It has been my great privilege to work closely with foster parents over my career. I've represented foster parents in juvenile court proceedings including hearings as to the termination of parental rights. I have also had the most rewarding of professional experiences of representing these same foster parents through the adoption of the foster child and the achievement of the happiest of endings for any legal case.

If you are a foster parent and have questions about juvenile court legal proceedings, and if you feel that the court system isn't always sensitive to your concerns, please contact us for a free initial consultation as to your case. It is my goal to provide my foster parent clients with experienced legal guidance, consistent with their needs and goals and always with the best interests of the child at heart.