Caseworkers and DCS conferences do not have the final word about removal, placement, and possible adoption of Indiana children in foster care. Courts are where these ultimate decisions are made.
Several decades ago, foster parents had no legally guaranteed rights to be heard in court. Unlike the birth parents, the DCS caseworker, and the CASA, you as a foster parent had no legal standing. Foster parents were not even regularly notified of court hearings. That has changed. When disagreements arise today, Indiana foster parents have gained considerable rights to present their case. You now have these rights:
Notification of all periodic case reviews. (PL 133-2000) Ten (10) days before the periodic case review, including a case review that is a permanency hearing, the county office of family and children shall provide notice of the hearing to the child’s foster parent by the same process prescribed under Indiana Trial Rule 4.1.
Submit a written statement directly to the court. (PL 133-2000) You may submit your daily journal about the child’s progress, or any other documentation or statement directly to the judge. This might include the identification of persons, such as relatives, teachers, therapists, and others who know the child and whom the court might wish to hear before making a life-shaping decision. Such written material will be made a part of the court record, provided that a copy has been given to the other parties in the proceeding.
Present oral testimony in court. (PL 152-2003) You may also take the stand as a witness to testify about the child’s well-being and what you perceive to be in the child’s best interests.
Cross-examine all witnesses at the hearing. (PL 152-2003). You have the right to cross examine any witnesses at the review or permanency hearings. This would include the caseworker, therapist, teachers, anyone who gives testimony. You would probably wish to be represented by an attorney who would perform the cross examinations.
Request intervention as a party. Legal party status would give you the right to file motions. The judge may grant such standing if he or she deems it to be in the child’s best interests. Judges in Indiana have granted party status in specific cases.
All you are asking is the chance to tell the court fully what you know and are willing to provide, before a decision that significantly impacts the child’s future. These rights represent the opportunity for you to act as advocate for the children in your care.