Credit hours:

Course Summary

Navigating the child welfare legal system is perhaps one of the greatest challenges for foster parents, birth parents, and 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 “parental” decisions on behalf of the youth in care. Simply put, the government acts as a surrogate parent, and often makes case plans for youth and not with youth. These life altering 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, of an 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 focused on the federal 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:

Step 1 

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.

Step 2

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

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 

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 

Make Your Voice Heard: A Guide to Dependency Court -  Watch this informational video hosted by Tammi Workman, who has lived experience in the foster care system. The video provides a general overview of what a child welfare court hearing looks like, and how to better 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 

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?

Step 7

Finished the module? If you are logged in as a subscribed user, take the quiz to earn your Continuing Education Credit hours and certificate!

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Course Discussion

Saintiche1's picture

Saintiche1 said:

Great course
Bohannon.T's picture

Bohannon.T said:

They are encouraged to attend because they know what happens in the day to day lives of the children in their care.
elizabethswenson's picture

elizabethswenson said:

They need to attend so they know what is going on with the case and present any questions or concerns if needed.
ladynick77's picture

ladynick77 said:

They are encouraged to attend so that their voices can be heard, stay updated and provide needed information since the child is in their care.
H.Collins's picture

H.Collins said:

They are encouraged to attend so that their voices can be heard and so that they can stay up to date on their case plans
Yorgey05's picture

Yorgey05 said:

To stay updated on the case and to get informed on all details and to also be to advocate for the child in your care.
Beto14's picture

Beto14 said:

you learn more information about the case and it shows the child that you are there to support them.
Erniee23's picture

Erniee23 said:

Being at every court hearing gives you tons of information about the case, it also allows you firsthand at hearing all that is said and done. You are also the biggest voice for the child as well.
Cdnuss32's picture

Cdnuss32 said:

The foster parents should attend because they are one if not the biggest advocates for the child. It also is a great way for the parents to stay informed of the legal process with the child’s case.
justinandjenn100's picture

justinandjenn100 said:

Attending helps you stay informed and show you care.