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

Kingjosh's picture

Kingjosh said:

to get better info on whats going on with the childs situation. info that may not be shared with them otherwise.m
Kingjosh's picture

Kingjosh said:

to get better info on whats going on with the childs situation. info that may not be shared with them otherwise.m
shortyd1107's picture

shortyd1107 said:

To keep foster parents aware of changes in the child's visits/therapies, and helping foster parents have the information to properly help the children in their care.
bighamdaniel18's picture

bighamdaniel18 said:

Foster parents being involved in hearings helps them to advocate for the kids and to be aware of changes to be implemented.
Lamarrj422's picture

Lamarrj422 said:

so that the parent is aware of what will take place
jonathan_harrell's picture

jonathan_harrell said:

Foster parents are in an excellent position to advocate for the children in their care in the court system.
BigDaddyDan's picture

BigDaddyDan said:

Going to the hearings helps you advocate for the child.
cmorris50's picture

cmorris50 said:

Going to the court hearings are a good way to get information first hand instead of it being reworded through the case workers.
JoMorris's picture

JoMorris said:

Attending the court dates help the foster parents get first hand information about the progress of the case.
woodc22306's picture

woodc22306 said:

Foster parents are encouraged to attend every child welfare hearing to stay up to date in what is happening in the Childs case as well be able to break it down to answer questions the child may have on their level. Children may be scared to ask these questions at the court. Its also good to know what your next steps should be. The court will also want to know how things have changed with the child since coming into your household.