In September of 2009, the Texas Legislature enacted the Foster Parent Bill of Rights (Texas Family Code Chapter 263, Subchapter A, Section 1) a 23 point outline of what Child Protective Services is expected to do and what a foster parent is expected to do when a child enters a foster home as a result of abuse or neglect.
Has it been effective? To answer that question, the requirements of the new law must be put in context of the realities of how CPS operates and the amount of work heaped on its case workers. CPS is required by this new Bill of Rights to inform a foster parent of the plans for the child’s placement, mental and physical health concerns with the children, Court Dates, planning meetings, and other appointments where the foster parent can obtain valuable information. These new requirements aim to be helpful, and in a more perfect world, would be.
In this world, however, CPS is plagued with overworked and ill-prepared social workers, a fact that is of its own doing. Case workers are overworked. They are required to speak with the parents, several sets of attorneys, the courts, their supervisors, service providers, and potential family placements of these meetings and court dates as well. Many case workers are not equipped to do their jobs. They are not required to hold a degree in Social Work and they are given nominal training prior to taking serious cases.
Given the often overwhelming amount of work heaped on undertrained case workers, a new set of rights does little to make sure the foster parent receives all the information they need. The Foster Parent Bill of Rights does not even allow the foster parent, the very person who has been taking care of the abused children for the duration of the court case, to have a voice in the court case.
These new rules purport to make for a more informed foster parent. However, the new requirements actually obscure an important right of action by a foster parent, through silence as to that right. A foster parent can intervene in a CPS case after the child has been placed in their home for one year. Only through this avenue can the foster parent ensure his or her voice will be heard in court. When a foster parent intervenes, department is no longer able to summarily remove the child from a foster home, place the child in another foster home, or return the children to the home where the abuse occurred. Plainly, this is the strongest of rights available to the foster parent, yet this grandly titled new collection of rights is silent on that front.
Perhaps most distressing of all, the Foster Parent Bill of Rights does nothing to answer the one question that many foster to adoptive parents ask: is this child eligible for adoption? To be eligible, the child must first be removed from the home under investigation, after that the adopting parent must follow certain rules set down by CPS itself, in addition to the state’s requirements for adoption. The department’s case workers often have limited information on what the biological parent will need to do to get their child back, so informing foster parents on whether removal is indicated is nigh impossible. On top of that, the department’s often changing guidelines, policies, and procedures make fostering a child with the hope of adoption a murky and uneasy time for the foster families.
The Foster Parent’s Bill of Rights is well-intentioned, and if effective, would be a step in the right direction. But the law provides little in the way of consequences, doesn’t address (in fact complicates further) the problems with CPS itself, and leaves out important areas of disclosure. The end result is a law that does little to assist a foster family in protecting the children in their care. Furthermore, it does not address the most important of all questions: is this child that I love so much going to be part of my family?