Question: When a foster parent disagrees with the decision to reunify the foster child with their birth parents, the foster parents hire an attorney to stop the reunification, what happens?
The answer is it depends. It is always important to understand the motivation of contesting the reunification. If the foster parent objects because they want to adopt, they think they are better parents or they think the child will have a better life with them, those reasons are not going to stop a reunification. If there are safety concerns for the child’s health or welfare, information regarding parental drug use, mistreatment of the child, neglect etc, the information should be given to the DCS caseworker, the Guardian ad Litem (they can’t help if they don’t know) and if need be a report to the DCS Child Abuse Hotline.
What does it depend on? A lot depends on what the case plan is at the time of reunification. If the case plan is still family reunification there isn’t a lot a foster parent can do. The right to parent your child is fundamental, the biological parents are usually given every opportunity to get their child back. If the Foster Parents hires an attorney, the attorney will need to file a motion to intervene and become a party to the case. If the motion to intervene is granted, the foster placement, can then file a motion, requesting to stop reunification. If the motion to intervene is not granted, there is not much they can do. One of the reasons the motion to intervene can be denied, is the Guardian ad Litem is already advocating for the best interest of the child.
If the case plan has been changed to severance and adoption, the foster placement has a right to notice of the removal from the foster home and a right to be heard. The right to be heard does not include party status. It is a right of the foster placement to tell the Court why they don’t agree with the removal of the child from the foster home. (This also applies when the child is being moved from the foster home after the case plan has changed and the foster placement is the proposed permanent placement).
Hiring an attorney can sometimes be costly without much benefit. Reunification is typically the goal in most dependency cases. Parents do not have to be the most amazing parent ever, they have to be minimally adequate. They must be able to keep the children safe, keep them fed and clothed, and have stable housing and income. It doesn’t matter if they will have a nicer home or more opportunity with you, the biologic parents have a right to parent.
There are several statues that govern Removal of a Child and the rights of Foster Parents (this is not a complete list). ARS 8-515.05 (Removal of a child from a foster home), ARS 8-530 (Foster Parents Rights), ARS 8-862(H) (Removal of a foster child after the case plan has changed to severance and adoption).
What can a foster parent do? The most important thing you can do is communicate with the DCS worker, the GAL, the treatment providers, etc,. Foster parents sometimes, mistakenly believe that all parties of the case have the same information they do. It is not uncommon for the foster parent to know things the GAL or DCS does not. They can not help if they don’t know. The GAL does advocate for the best interest of the child, you may not always agree with them, but please help them do so with complete information.
Guardian ad Litem