How do children end up in the foster care system?
Once CPS receives a tip or complaint, they open an investigation. They typically interview the parents, the child, and other witnesses, and do a home visit. Depending on the level of harm or neglect suffered by the child, CPS will refer the case to the Attorney General’s Office to review for opening a dependency action. The Attorney General’s Office then reviews the facts and completes an analysis using the standard under RCW 13.34.030(6). If it is believed that a child should become dependent, then the Attorney General’s Office files a Dependency Petition. If the Dependency Petition is granted, then the child becomes a ward of the state and a dependency action is started.
Where do children go if they can’t be with their parents?
Typically, children are placed in foster homes if there is a dependency action and the child is removed from their parents’ home. A foster parent must be licensed to have a child placed in their home. More information on becoming a foster parent can be found here: https://www.dcyf.wa.gov/services/foster-parenting/become-a-foster-parent. One thing to note is that the process to become licensed can be long and difficult depending on the prospective foster parent’s situation. This generally isn’t something that happens overnight, so be prepared for the process to take time.
Foster parents can be unknown third parties to the family involved, or a family member or friend will be asked to undergo the licensing process so the child can be with them. Placements with people known to the child are generally a preference unless placement with a family member or friend isn’t possible. Foster parents are paid by the state to care for the child for the length of time the child is placed in their care (a few days, weeks, months, or years depending on the length of the dependency action and subsequent outcome). A foster parent can choose the terms of their fostering relationship, and can opt to be a potential adoptive placement.
How does a dependent child become eligible for adoption?
A couple things for foster parents to note when going through this process is that even if a child is placed with you and is thriving in your home, if a parent is found to be making progress with services there is a possibility that the child will be returned to them. Another thing is that this part of the process can take a substantial period of time. Not only does a parent have to fail to make process for a substantial period of time (within 12 months according to RCW 13.34.180(1)(e)) for termination to be pursued, but a parent is entitled to a trial and entitled to an appeal of the trial court’s decision if their parental rights are terminated.
What happens after the parental rights are terminated?
Through the foster care process, a lot of the necessary steps for the adoption are taken care of. Both a Pre-Placement Report and Post-Placement Report are required for an adoption to take place, and the state takes care of both. The state also handles termination of the biological parents’ parental rights, which is another required step. When everything is deemed ready to proceed with the adoption finalization, the state can provide recommendations to private attorneys to complete the process or you have the opportunity to find a private attorney on your own.
What does the adoption finalization process look like?
After the final orders are entered regarding the adoption, the adoption attorney assists the now legal parents (previously foster parents) with obtaining a new birth certificate for the child. The waiting period for obtaining a new birth certificate from the state can be anywhere from two to twelve weeks depending on the state’s workload and capacity. One thing to note is that attorney’s fees and costs paid by a foster parent to finalize an adoption and obtain a new birth certificate are eligible for reimbursement through the state. Make sure to save copies of your attorney’s invoices or ask for copies so you have the appropriate paperwork to request a reimbursement.
A Few Final Thoughts
Choosing to adopt through the foster care system can be a great avenue for parents looking to expand their family and make an impact in a local child’s life. However, it can be a very long and involved process, and there can be a lot of uncertainty up to the point of the termination becoming final. Consulting with a private adoption attorney sooner rather than later can help make the adoption through foster care process a bit more transparent, but understand that a private adoption attorney’s role is quite limited. If you have questions about adoption through the foster care system, don’t hesitate to reach out to Navigate Law Group for an experienced attorney to assist you.
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Amber M. Rushbanks (Rush)
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Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue you should consult an attorney.