WHAT IS FOSTER CARE?
When students can’t live safely at home and an appropriate non-custodial parent is currently unable or unwilling to care for them, the court can give temporary, legal custody of the students to Children’s Administration (CA). CA temporarily places these students in out-of-home care, more commonly known as foster care. Foster care is meant to be temporary until a permanent living arrangement is found and CA no longer has legal custody. However, for some students it can become permanent. CA strives to provide quality services for students in foster care. However, students in foster care may have to change placements several times due to a variety of factors such as licensing standard violations, court rulings, requested moves by the students or caregivers, identification of appropriate relatives or suitable adults, or changes in the foster home or facility. CA consistently works toward better matching the needs of each individual student with an appropriate placement.
HOW DOES A STUDENT ENTER THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM?
Students enter the foster care system when they are “at risk of imminent harm” or have “been abandoned; . . . abused or neglected; or [have] no parent, guardian, or custodian capable of caring for [them].” Before a decision is made to remove a students, Child Protective Services (CPS) must make reasonable efforts to safely maintain students with their families, including sometimes providing necessary support and services. CA, Tribes and community agencies can provide these services. Students may also be voluntarily placed into the care and custody of CA by their parents. The Voluntary Placement Agreement (VPA) provides a time-limited plan for foster placement in cases where students are unsafe or there is no parent capable or available to care for them. When necessary to ensure their safety, CPS can file a dependency petition with the court to remove students from the care of their parents. This begins a court process called a “dependency case” in which the parents are entitled to representation and due process. In an emergent situation where it appears that students are at risk of imminent harm or have already been seriously abused or neglected, a policy officer can place them in “protective custody” for no more than 72 hours (not counting weekends or holidays). Custody of the students is then transferred to CPS. If CPS determines their safety can be managed in the home, the students can be returned to the care of their parents. If CPS determines that their safety cannot be managed in the home, it will file a dependency petition and follow the court process or enter into a time-limited VPA with the parents. Once students are taken into custody and a decision has been made to file a dependency petition, the court will hold a shelter care hearing to determine whether they can safely return home or if they need to remain in foster care because there is reasonable cause to believe they have been abandoned, abused or neglected or there is no parent, guardian or custodian capable of taking care of them. Subsequently, a fact-finding hearing takes place, as does a disposition hearing. These activities result in a decision regarding whether students will return home or move to foster care.