Friday, October 25, 2013

Journey through the Court System Part 1

The court system for foster care is complex and confusing to say the least.  I think most people have NO idea what it is like until they live it.  I'm going to try and break it down for you.  I will do a pre adoption/return home goal change and a post adoption/return home goal change post.  This is for Illinois ONLY!  I'm not sure how other states do it, but I would assume some of it is pretty similar.  Also, I know I am going to get some of this wrong, feel free to correct me and I will update the post.  At this point I'm not going to share where we are in system.

  • The kids are removed from the home: Children can be removed from their home for emtional, physical, medical, or sexual abuse.  Children can also be removed for neglect.  

  • Shelter Hearing: A shelter hearing happens within 48 hours of a child being removed from their home.  At this time the evidence for why they where removed is presented.  If a child was unfairly removed then the child is immediately returned home (not very often).  Typically it is found that there is convincing evidence for the removal.  The child is then taking into temporary DCFS care (it doesn't matter if the child is placed with a private agency or DCFS....DCFS is the one who takes guardianship).
  • Adjudicatory Hearing: At this hearing the biological parents are charged with abuse and/or neglect of the minor.  They will either plead guilty or not guilty.  If its pretty clear they did it then their lawyers will recommend they plead guilty.  If they plead not guilty and are found not guilty the child is returned home.  Typically they are found guilty and charged with abuse and/or neglect of the minor.  They have forty days to appeal this or they can wave the appeal.
  • Dispostitional Order: A dipostional order means that full guardianship of the child is taken by DCFS.  We are actually NOT the children's guardians and thus can NOT make those decisions.  Neither is our caseworker.  All of those things go above his/her head.  We ARE the kids educational advocates meaning we can sign off on field trips and IEP's.  We can NOT sign off on athletic events of any sort (if our kids want to play soccer, it has to be approved).  We are not their medical guardians either.  While we can take the kids to basic appointments.  We can not sign off on any medication or procedures, that is DCFS's job. 
  • Status Hearings: Status hearings take place every 3, 6, or 9 months.  MOST take place every 6 months.  I don't think they often take place 9 months out.  If it is happening in shorter spurts (3 months) that that means that you are either getting closer to termination or to return home.  Visits are another way to tell this.  A parent is given the right (typically) to seeing their child at visits for two hours a week.  If the visits are increasing in length and frequency the child is getting ready to return home.  If they are decreasing in frequency the parents are getting closer to loosing rights.  At each status hearing the parents plan is reviewed and goals gone over (the family is given a plan for what needs to be done to return the children home and the parents are given goals to accomplish).  The parents are either found fit or unfit at each of these.  The goal is then set at Return Home-5 Months, Return Home-12 Months, or Substitute Care-Pending Termination. 
  • Goal Change: At some point (I believe Dispositional, but it my be Adjudicatory) the child is given a goal (see the three listed above).  If it's Return Home-5 Months the children can be returned home any time in the next five months.  The parents at this point will have been found fit because they have met all their goals.  Return Home-12 Months means that the child will continue to go through Status Hearings.  The parents have not completed services but the courts are still trying to return that child home.  Substitute Care-Pending Termination means that there will be a Termination Hearing.  The parents are not completing services and the court feels the best interest of the child is to end those parents' rights.
Are you confused yet?  Yeah, me too, and I have lived it.  Next Friday I will post what happens ofter a goal changes to Return Home-5 Months OR Substitute Care-Pending Termination.

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