three childrenMay is Foster Care Month

There are a myriad of myths and beliefs about the foster care system and the children within it. The month of May is Foster Care Month so I wanted to take a moment to focus on this vital service. Most people are familiar with foster care. In case you are not, to put it simply, foster care is a government program operated by each state individually where a state agency removes children from their parent(s) or guardians. The child becomes eligible for adoption if the guardian does not follow through with the requirements the state sets for return of the children. The process for removal of the child from the home to becoming eligible for adoption may take upwards of two years. Until the time a child is adopted they are placed in group homes and/or foster homes. Older children and those with health or mental issues may never be adopted and may simply “age-out” of the system when they turn 18.

 

Quick Facts

The number of children in foster care is estimated to be about 400,000 nationally. About 100,000 are available today for adoption. The average age is just under 9 years old and there are slightly more boys than girls. Nearly half the children are Caucasian, a quarter are African American and the remainder is Hispanic or other races.

The Process

When a child agency gets a complaint they are obligated to investigate, but often police start the process because they have arrested the guardian and no legal guardian is available to watch the children. In many cases the removal is quick. The child is allowed to grab their clothes and possibly a toy that will fit in a garbage bag and then taken to an office for processing. Their stay in the office may be several hours as paperwork is filed and a home is located. Often the initial home is a group home until a foster family or relative takes the child in.

A judge will review the case, typically within two weeks and determine if the child should be returned to the parents or retained by the state. If the retention is ordered the state then will develop a plan that the parents will be required to follow if they hope to have the children returned. In some cases the plan will skip the parents and move for severance of the parental rights.

Length of Time

The length of time a child stays in foster care is dependent on numerous factors. Some factors are the stipulations the state sets on the parent such as drug testing or classes that could include parenting or anger management. The guardian may also be required to obtain a suitable job with certain pay requirements. The children will most likely not be returned until all of these stipulations are met.

Another factor is if the parent is incarcerated. If the sentence is short, say six months to a year, the child may remain in foster care pending the parent’s release and completion of stipulations as mentioned above.

Severance

A parent can lose their rights to a child if the state and judge deem the parent is unfit or if the guardian decides they do not want the child.

During the court proceedings a parent may be provided with a lawyer for legal council if they cannot afford their own. However, in most cases, once the judge has made the decision to terminate parental rights, the parent also loses their court appointed attorney.  Many people do not have the money to fight the legal system, therefore it is actually uncommon for an appeal to be made to severance decisions.

Adoptability

Once a parent’s rights have been severed the child can be placed for adoption. This may be with a relative or non-relative. Usually courts favor placement with relatives. Once a family is located the child must live with that family for six months to insure the match is a good fit before adoption paperwork can be filed. Although it creates a terrible situation for the child, it is not unusual for a child to be moved out of a home that is not a good fit.

Group Homes

Group homes usually have six or more children within them. Although there are probably some good homes, the majority leave much to be desired in the upbringing and rearing of a child, especially those that are operated like an institution. In larger homes the children do not have the consistent one-on-one interaction a father or mother can provide and end up missing out on learning numerous life skills that are taught within home settings like cooking, cleaning, money management, broken item repair and more.

Foster Parents

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this is Foster Care Month, but I have hardly mentioned foster parents thus far. However they are the backbone of the entire system. Without foster parents children would be placed and left in group homes and miss out on the love and care only a family can provide.

There are many styles of foster homes- as many styles as the parents behind them. Unfortunately there are bad parents. Although the pay is not that great, about $600 per child, there are still some parents who are in it for the money or simply want a child, especially an older child to work for them.  Some parents will treat the foster child differently from their own such as in giving them less food to eat.

On the flip side, there are some really great parents who truly care for each child and desire to help the child through the traumatic situation of removal from their home and reunification or placement in an adoptive home.  These parents strive to help the child to be productive and become an asset to society. It is our sincere desire that this type of parent far outweigh any other living situation these children are placed in during their time in state care.

Trauma

Removal from a known environment can be unsettling for adults, but when a child is uprooted it becomes a traumatic experience that can negatively affect a child for the rest of their life.  Good foster parents are crucial to helping the child overcome and adapt. As I stated before, foster parents are the backbone of the system and here’s a shout out to them!

 

 

 

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Recognized as one of the nation’s premier law firms, The Cochran Firm handles cases on behalf of clients seeking a Personal Injury Lawyer, Criminal Defense, Medical Malpractice, Bankruptcy Attorney in Atlanta or Social Security Disability Lawyer.The Firm can be reached at 1-800-THE-FIRM (1-800-843-3476) or fill out the form on this page. “Working for You.” Article by Benjamin A. Irwin, Esq.


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