Foster families spend more time with children in foster care than any other professional partner. Foster parents have valuable, child-specific information that is important to share with courts and agencies, information that should assist with case planning, permanency planning, and health care and education decision-making. Accordingly, foster parents should be treated as priority partners on the child’s care and treatment team and their input should be considered as seriously as that of professionals such as clinicians, attorneys and caseworkers. Caregivers also have first-hand experience with the effects of agency foster care policies and procedures and thus can play an important role in foster care policy development.
What the Research Says
Research has shown that foster parent involvement in case planning is linked to increased foster parent satisfaction and intent to continue fostering. Foster parents report wanting to be part of a professional team that is planning for the child’s future, and often cite the lack of involvement in decision-making as one reason for being dissatisfied and even quitting. A research summary is available here.
Recommended Policy Approaches
Include foster parents in team meetings
Policy should be clear that foster parents are essential members of the team of experts supporting the child and family. As such, foster parents should be invited and expected to attend and participate in meetings concerning the child. Every effort should be made to facilitate such participation, including allowing foster parents to participate by phone, if necessary.
Notification and follow-up regarding court hearings
Federal law requires foster parents to be notified of court hearings and be provided an opportunity to be heard. This requirement, however, is not always complied with. State policy should reinforce the importance of foster parents’ participation in court hearings and require caseworkers to facilitate such participation.
Foster parent advisory boards
State and regional advisory boards are a vehicle for foster parents to be active participants in policy development and refinement at the agency as well as legislative levels. Advisory boards also serve to raise public awareness of the important service that foster parents provide, promote foster parent involvement in local child welfare-related planning, promote the statewide exchange of information and recommend improvements to foster parent training and support.
Training and policy guidance for caseworkers on required information sharing
Federal law requires that foster parents be provided certain information regarding children’s health and education. Such information is crucial to enable foster parents to engage in decision-making and provide quality care for children. Sometimes, however, this information is not shared because of misconceptions about confidentiality restrictions and for other reasons. Policy and caseworker training should clarify what must be shared and what cannot be shared so that foster parents get the information they need.
Examples of Existing Policies and Programs
Illinois Foster Parent Law and Statewide Foster Care Advisory Council
In 1995, Illinois enacted Public Act 89-19, which ensures that foster parents have a role in decision-making both in individual cases and in statewide policy development. The Foster Parent Law consists of extensive legislative findings regarding the essential role of foster parents, as well as a list of foster parents’ rights and responsibilities. Included in the list of rights is the right to participate in case planning and decision-making regarding the child, to provide input into the service plan and to have that input be given full consideration “in the same manner as information presented by any other professional on the team.” The law requires the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and each private provider of foster care to prepare an annual plan for implementing the law. These plans are taken seriously by DCFS and its private providers. For example, Children’s Home and Aid, one of the largest providers of foster care in the state, seeks input into its plans from foster parents and direct service staff through surveys, individual interactions and group meetings. An internal agency task force monitors progress in meeting plan goals.
The Statewide Foster Care Advisory Council Law created a 22-member council consisting of foster parents, foster care professionals, the president of the Illinois Foster and Adoptive Parent Association and four non-DCFS foster care experts to advise and make recommendations regarding foster care law and policy.1 In addition, the council is tasked with reviewing, approving and monitoring the implementation plans required by the Foster Parent Law. The council scores each plan based on a set of criteria developed by the council and conducts on-site agency reviews to determine adherence to the rights and responsibilities enumerated in the Foster Parent Law. In addition to the statewide council, each DCFS region has its own council. The statewide council has had a significant impact on policy development in a number of areas, including normalcy for foster youth, differential response, shared parenting, foster parent training, and monthly foster care board rates, among others.
Missouri Foster Parents’ Professional Status and Foster Care and Adoption Board
In 2007, Missouri enacted into law a Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights.2 In addition to other rights, the law formally established foster parents as colleagues on the child welfare team, requiring that foster parents be engaged in a manner consistent with the National Association of Social Workers’ Ethical Responsibilities to Colleagues. This designation recognizes foster parents as professionals whose expertise is on par with caseworkers, mental health providers, and other members of the team, and also provides them with access to formal appeal processes that are established in law. In 2011, the state legislature enacted the Missouri State Foster Care and Adoption Board.3 Comprised of foster and adoptive parents from across the state, the Board is charged by law with providing consultation and assistance to the Department of Social Services on policies and procedures related to foster care and adoption, and also determining the nature and content of in-service training. Board members are reimbursed by the state for expenses related to their board duties. In addition, the Board interfaces with the Family Resource Centers that provide an array of supports to foster and adoptive families across the state. In the course of working with families, the Family Resource Centers identify issues and challenges that arise for foster and adoptive families. Issues that appear to be systemic in nature are brought to the Foster Care and Adoption Board for their review and recommendations.
Clark County, Nevada Information Sharing Brochure
In 2016, the Clark County Quality Parenting Initiative Child Welfare Workgroup collaborated with the District Attorney’s Office to address the issue of inconsistent information sharing. The workgroup created a brochure that summarizes law and policy governing information sharing in federal law, Nevada Revised Statutes, Nevada Administrative Code and Clark County Department of Family Services policy. The brochure highlights the benefits of sharing information, which includes building meaningful partnerships between caseworkers, birth families and foster caregivers. It outlines the types of information that must be shared with care providers, such as children’s health and education information, case plans, permanency plans and visitation plans, as well as information that cannot be shared, such as mandated reporter information, court reports, birth parents’ financial records, and HIPAA protected health information, e.g., parents’ drug test and psychological evaluation results. The QPI lead in Clark County reports that the brochure has been helpful in dispelling confusion on the part of caseworkers and supervisors about what information must be shared with foster parents.4
Tennessee Child and Family Team Meeting Protocol
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) works to ensure that foster parents can attend Child and Family Team Meetings (CFTMs). First, foster parents are able participate in the CFTMs in person or by phone, which helps working parents or parents with other children to stay involved. DCS also has a detailed CFTM protocol that clarifies roles, decisions to be made, and explicitly gives any member of the team, including foster parents, the right to call a CFTM. Foster parents, in particular, can call a CFTM when they feel like they need additional help and/or don’t have all the information they need in order to care for the child placed in their home. If at any time foster parents feel as though they need support in a CFTM, they can request a foster parent advocate to attend the meeting with them. (For more on Tennessee’s Advocacy Program, see following section on dedicated staff and peer support).
Quality Parenting Initiative/Florida Partnership Plan
The Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI) is a statewide approach to strengthening foster care in Florida, and in numerous other jurisdictions. Launched in Florida in 2008, QPI focuses on implementing policies and practices that support excellent parenting for all children in the child welfare system. One important policy related to ensuring excellent parenting is Florida’s partnership plan, which is being implemented across the state as part of regular case practice. The partnership plan exists in administrative policy5 and key components are reflected in Florida statute. The partnership plan is also embedded in pre-service foster parent training (MAPP and Pride).
The partnership plan is a signed statement that articulates a shared understanding between caregivers and agency staff of the goals and responsibilities they each have to ensure excellent parenting for each child in foster care. The partnership plan is a clear framework to guide a strong working partnership between caregivers and agency staff on behalf of the child’s well-being. Among other things, the partnership plan emphasizes the importance of information sharing and inclusion of foster parents in team meetings and court hearings.
Since its inception, the partnership plan has evolved in both practice and policy to reflect input from stakeholders. The initial design of the framework began in 2011 with the convening of a statewide workgroup that included foster parents and community-based care providers as well as casework and licensing staff from the Department of Children and Families. Developed collaboratively, the partnership plan and the accompanying assessment instruments serve as a guide to licensing, case management, and support of foster families.
Use of the partnership plan is a work in progress. QPI representatives indicate that implementation of the partnership plan is a high priority, particularly with regard to incorporating it into caseworkers’ training and notifying court staff about the plan. QPI staff point out that the partnership plan is a shared responsibility; therefore, it is important to ensure it is implemented in both foster parent and caseworker training, which ideally should be joint training.
Other states that have a partnership plan include Nevada and California.
Opportunities to Engage Foster Parents in Decision-Making
- Case planning
- Team meetings
- Court hearings and follow-up
- State and regional advisory boards
- Development of Diligent Recruitment and Retention Plans
- Development of foster parents’ rights and responsibilities
Alaska Resource Family Advisory Board (RFAB):
RFAB is a collaboration between the State of Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and the Alaska Center for Resource Families (ACRF). The mission of the RFAB is to provide education, understanding and guidance to resource families and OCS for the benefit of all through open and continuing communication with OCS workers and administration to create a better environment for all children. The RFAB is led jointly by a foster parent and a representative of OCS.
The RFAB developed the Resource Family Bill of Rights in cooperation with OCS. Finalized in 2018, the bill of rights is provided to all foster parents and social workers and covers 13 key areas, including communication, information, notice, involvement, placement, religion, and permissions. It is intended to be a useful tool for families and provide clarification on day-to-day questions.
The priority initiatives of the RFAB for 2019 include (1) establish and promote awareness of a new bill of rights for resource parents in Alaska; (2) seek resource parent feedback and share with OCS management; (3) make recommendations regarding licensed foster family investigations; (4) support regional support networks amongst resource parents; and (5) help encourage a system of recognition and appreciation for experienced resource parents.6
120 ILCS 520/Article 1
220 ILCS 525/Article 5
3MO Rev Stat 210.566
4MO Rev Stat 210.617
5Denise Parker, Clark County QPI Coordinator, Clark County Department of Family Services, personal communication, August 29, 2018.
6Fla. Admin. Code, 65C-13.025, 65C-14.023, 65C-28.004
7Aileen McInnis, Director, Alaska Center for Resource Families, a Division of Northwest Resource Associates, personal communication October 29, 2019