Credit hours:

Course Summary

Navigating the child welfare legal system is perhaps one of the greatest challenges for foster parents, birth parents, and inexperienced caseworkers. Because legal systems vary significantly depending on county, state, and federal laws, navigating these judicial labyrinths can be disorienting, frustrating, humbling, and at times, deflating. When a child’s wellbeing and future are at stake, it can feel even more daunting. Caseworkers, attorneys (for birth parents, child welfare agencies, and the child/youth), juvenile court judges—all of whom represent state and/or county governments—make many, if not most of the otherwise “parental” decisions on behalf of the youth in care. Simply put, the government acts as a surrogate parent, and often case plans for youth and not with youth. These life altering/defining decisions are derived from a complex hodge-podge of legal matters, child welfare policy, rights and responsibilities, (alleged) expert opinion, and the youth’s “best interests.” With a broader and deeper understanding of court proceedings (especially from caseworker and birth parent(s) perspectives) and case planning, foster parents and youth alike can not only feel more informed (of their rights and responsibilities), but also more actively engaged in decision-making processes. This training serves as map, compass, and established route to better navigating the child welfare legal system. Because judicial systems are typically state-specific, most of the information within the module is federal in scope, and is provided courtesy of the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a congressionally mandated/funded information service between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Administration for Children and Families, and the U.S. Children’s Bureau.

In this course, you can expect to learn:

  • Develop a broader understanding of Child Welfare Legal System processes, procedures, and proceedings, and how to better navigate them 

  • Become more informed about parents’ and families’ legal rights and responsibilities

  • How to actively participate in child welfare court proceedings

Step 1 (30 min)

Understanding Child Welfare and the Courts - Families involved with the child welfare system must often engage with the judicial system. The court experience can be intimidating and/or overwhelming. This factsheet from the Child Welfare Information Gateway is designed to demystify the legal process and inform families of their rights and responsibilities. It also answers parent and caregiver concerns about the court process and provides resources regarding legal action and parental rights. Current and prospective foster parents will find this helpful as It includes frequently asked questions about the different stages of court proceedings, how birth parents, foster parents, and family members can prepare for court hearings, a glossary of court terms, and who and what to expect in the courtroom and throughout the process. - Child Welfare Information Gateway

Step 2 (8:50 min)

A Bit About Hearings - Watch this video to get “real world” advice from a foster mother with firsthand experience navigating the child welfare legal system.

Step 3 (20 min)

Please review this brief overview and flowchart of How the Child Welfare System Works, as well as this diagram of “Navigating The Courts” provided by FosterClub.

Step 4 (5 min)

Advice for Foster Parents in Child Welfare Court Hearings - Read these helpful tips from other foster parents and caseworkers on how to effectively participate in child welfare court proceedings.

Step 5 (15:13 min)

Make Your Voice Heard: A Guide to Dependency Court -  Watch this informational video hosted by Tammi, a foster care system alumni. The video provides a general overview of what a child welfare court hearing looks like, and how to better prepare for it. It explains the roles of those involved in a dependency hearing, while encouraging youth to actively participate in court. It also provides a brief reenactment of what a proceeding might look like in real time. Although the video represents Florida’s child welfare system, and each state’s judicial system varies slightly, the procedures and questions addressed are applicable to most child welfare courts.

Step 6 (5 min)

Join the Discussion in the comments below to answer the following question:

Why are parents and caregivers strongly encouraged to attend every child welfare hearing, and be well-prepared to share their story with the judge and the court?

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Course Discussion's picture

mikenjulieclark... said:

Foster parents should be involved in all court procedures's picture

mikenjulieclark... said:

foster parents should attend all hearings whenever possible's picture

sarahhmiller197... said:

It is important as foster parents to be as involved as possible - to stay current on all matters, especially medical and legal;.'s picture said:

Foster parents should attend as many court hearings and meetings as possible - in order to advocate for the child as needed, and to understand the case plans involved, and share the child's behaviors and comments.
keelacase's picture

keelacase said:

Being present to not only learn more details of the case, firsthand information, advocating for the child and support.
Danielcase22's picture

Danielcase22 said:

This will help those closest to the child give an account of what is going on in the case. This could help resolve the case faster and help the child reunify sooner or get permanency.
MsPorter's picture

MsPorter said:

Its good for all people involved to be at the court. Not only to be able to answer any questions the court may have, but also to answer any questions the child may have.
Jlhartman's picture

Jlhartman said:

To show how involved you are, how much you care, advocate when given the opportunity, to get updates on the plan, and see how things are progressing. It's very important as we are wanting to ensure what is best for the children.
daveferg1388's picture

daveferg1388 said:

Everyone needs to be on the same page - meaning that all information should be up to date on all sides. They also should be attending so that they know what will happen in the future. New information is presented all the time - so you never know what will happen.
jusMEjackie10's picture

jusMEjackie10 said:

Be involved is important for everyone involved in the case. It helps to inform the courts and all legal personnel with information concerning the child/children's background and current situations. It can also help the family involved to become lawfully aware to how the process takes place and what steps are necessary to be taken concerning the case..