July 13, 2007
FOSTER AND ADOPTIVE PARENTS' RIGHTS
By: Susan Price, Principal Legislative Analyst
You asked several questions about Department of Children and Families' (DCF) policies concerning foster and adoptive parents' rights. The information for this report comes from Connecticut statutes, DCF policies, and department regulations; the agency did not respond to several requests for more specific information.
Electronic versions of the statutes, policies, and regulations can be downloaded from DCF's website: http://www.ct.gov/dcf/cwp/view.asp?a=2639&Q=321488
Is there an individual in the Department of Children and Families (DCF) who represents the interests of foster and adoptive parents?
No DCF employee has the responsibility of representing the interests of foster and adoptive parents. Its ombudsman's office receives, investigates, and attempts to resolve complaints from clients, foster and adoptive parents, service providers, and the general public (DCF Policy Manual § 2-4-1). The office, located at 505 Hudson St., Hartford CT 06106, is open weekdays from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Its phone number is 1-866-637-4737.
What information does DCF provide potential foster parents concerning the rights of the birth parent while the child is in foster care?
Among other things, people wishing to become foster parents are required first to complete DCF-approved training and obtain a license from the department. The training curriculum includes materials on the rights of birth parents. Written materials are also included in the Foster Parent and Adoptive Parent Handbook that the department distributes to all foster parents (Policy Manual § 41-16-10).
What information does DCF provide to foster parents who want to adopt a foster child concerning a timeline for termination of parental rights?
DCF publications inform potential adoptive parents that the timeline for terminating a child's parental rights varies from case to case. Significant variables include whether the department is attempting to reunify the child with his or her birth parents and legal challenges to the department's efforts to terminate parental rights.
The department must provide detailed legal information to prospective adoptive parents of legal risk children (those who have been determined to be likely to become free for adoption, but for whom court proceedings have not concluded). The information must be provided verbally and in writing prior to the child's placement with the family (Policy Manual § 48-9-6).
Does a family that wants to adopt a child have a right to a complete medical evaluation of the child prior to adoption?
Potential adoptive families are not legally entitled to subject a child to a medical examination. When DCF is the child's legal guardian, its informed consent must be obtained before any non-emergency treatment or examination is performed. The department may sign releases authorizing health care providers to share information with prospective adoptive parents, so long as information regarding other individuals mentioned in the records remains confidential.
Are there subsidies available for adoptive families?
DCF administers a special needs subsidy program for children whose age, ethnic background, race, need to be placed with siblings, or medical or mental condition, or a combination of these characteristics, who the department concludes will not be adopted unless if provides financial assistance.
DCF also provides tuition assistance for children adopted after January 1, 2005 who enroll in college or post-high school vocational training programs (Policy Manual §§ 48-18-1 through 48-18-18).
How does DCF handle complaints by foster parents and potential adoptive parents?
DCF must notify foster parents that they are entitled to request an administrative hearing in any dispute that involves the denial of payment. It has a three-step problem resolution process for other complaints.
The first step requires the parent to inform the DCF worker or the worker's supervisor of the complaint and try to resolve it with them. The foster program supervisor must be informed if the issue is not resolved at this level.
Informal mediation is the second step. The program supervisor must contact the parent, by phone and in person as necessary, and attempt to resolve the problem. If this is unsuccessful, the issue must go to the third step, formal problem resolution.
This last step requires the program supervisor to attend a formal meeting with the parent, worker, and worker's supervisor. The parent may bring a representative. If an agreement and plan to resolve the complaint cannot be reached, the program supervisor must ensure that both the foster parent and worker understand their rights and responsibilities. A letter confirming the outcome of the meeting must be sent to the parent and a copy placed in its DCF record. If the issue was child-related, a copy must also be placed in the child's file.
The program supervisor must send monthly reports of all such incidents to DCF's regional program director and director of the Office of Foster and Adoption Services (Policy Manual § 41-25-25).
What criteria are used to decide whether a child should participate in supervised visits vs. unsupervised visits with the birth parent?
The basic legal standards for such decisions are the child's health physical safety and best interests. In making visitation decisions, DCF performs a risk assessment covering five major areas: (1) the degree of abuse or neglect, (2) the child's characteristics, (3) information from the caretaker, (4) the family environment, and (5) the degree of cooperation (Policy Manual § 34-13-2).
What criteria are used to decide whether a child should be reunited with a birth parent?
State and federal law and regulations establish a presumption that it is in the child's best interest to be returned home. The department must offer families services to facilitate family reunification unless a court rules that they would be inappropriate or can be discontinued.
DCF policy presumes that it is not appropriate to return some children home. These are those who have: (1) been removed because of life-threatening injuries for which their caregivers are responsible or (2) formed strong bonds with caregivers who are prepared to keep them permanently, lost or never formed relationships with their birth parents, and obtained a clinical finding that their long-range development will be threatened by removal from their current living arrangement (Policy Manual § 36-40-1).
What criteria are used to decide whether to allow foster parents to adopt their foster child?
DCF lists the following as factors that should be assessed when considering whether a foster parent adoption is appropriate:
1. how long the child has lived with them, taking into account the child's age and development;
2. the child's emotional attachment to the foster family and the family's attachment to the child, including whether the child (a) sees him- or herself as a part of the family and wants to be adopted by them and (b) is emotionally invested or able to be emotionally invested in them;
3. the extent to which the foster family meets the child's short- and long-term needs;
4. how many times the child has been moved in the past and his or her capacity to bond with a new family;
5. the family's plan's for continued involvement with siblings and other birth relatives to which the child has bonded;
6. if the child has siblings who are free for adoption, whether placement with the family is possible; and
7. whether placement of additional foster children in the home is in the child's best interest.
(Policy Manual § 48-12-3)