Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Foster Parents' Rights in Ohio

Just to add the Ohio perspective to the Kansas pilot project mentioned by ME2 below:

Ohio law requires that foster parents receive notice of a variety of hearings in abuse, neglect and/or dependency cases including permanent custody hearings, dispositional hearings and custody reviews. The statute also allows foster parents to present evidence at these hearings.

As extensive as these rights may seem the law clearly states that foster parents do not become parties to the action, which ultimately means they do not have the right to appeal or the right to file objections to magistrates decisions. The law has been on Ohio's books since 1999 and seems much broader in granting foster parents access to the hearings than the proposed Kansas law. I'm not sure if any harm has come to any children based on foster parent involvement in the hearings. I think the concerns raised in the article on the Kansas law--that the child will be harmed because "we're increasing the number of people who are going to hear that child's story -- that can be very difficult for the child" is actually pretty minimal. In general, foster parents become quite familiar with their foster child's story. I would expect the foster parents to show some discretion about publicizing the details of that child's life or else perhaps they shouldn't be foster parents.

I do like the idea of the additional advocate for the parents in the proceedings. Parents don't always feel that their attorney is in their corner and sometimes they just need a friendly face to help them sort through the legalese. I do wonder what the financial impact of adding the advocates to the system will be: are they volunteers or court employees or child welfare employees?

Just over one hundred years since its creation, the juvenile system is still searching for the best way to help children and families.

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