Tulsa Foster Families Enjoy Legal Assurances
You spend months contemplating whether to become a foster parent. You spend just as long working to get Oklahoma foster parent certification. You prepare your home, and wait. Finally, the day arrives. A business-like yet friendly child protective services worker from an Oklahoma DHS child placement agency introduces you to your foster child. Your heart soars.
For some Tulsa families, foster parenting is very much a second career – just as much as parenting a child is to any other family. Your pour your heart and soul into caring for a foster child. You love the child as one of your own, with no promise of future love in return.
Things seem to be going well, until one day, a knock on the door. It is a familiar face, with an unusually terse expression. This time, your foster agency worker is not alone. A child welfare specialist hands you a paper.
The Dept. of Human Services worker you know leads you away from the door, which is left standing open. The other child protective services worker marches headlong into your home without another word, turning toward the child’s room. They are taking your foster child away, suddenly, with no notice and no explanation. The child welfare workers rudely barks demands at you as they lead your foster child away.
Unfamiliar with your rights as an Oklahoma foster parent, you might feel powerless. The state giveth and the state taketh away, you might think.
Oklahoma Foster Parent’s Bill of Rights
Not so fast. That is not how it works. Not most of the time. Oklahoma law spells out a Statement of Foster Parents Rights. The statute governs how Dept. of Human Services child welfare specialists must work with foster parents.
The first statutory mandates that control DHS workers’ relationship with foster parents require “dignity” and “respect.” Granted, those terms might get lost in interpretation. All the same, they make clear what Oklahoma lawmakers expect of child welfare specialists who work with Oklahoma foster families.
Other mandates in Oklahoma’s bill of foster parents rights are better phrased for legal enforcement, especially when changes are made in child placement. Oklahoma’s Children’s Code in most cases requires written notice to foster parents before a foster child may be moved. The only exception to prior written notice is in the event of emergencies, or when a foster child has been in the home less than three months.
Emergencies for which prior notice may be waived include:
- a court order resulting from a hearing, including an order for placement with a parent or sibling.
- the request of the foster parent or foster home,
- for emergency medical care, including behavioral health caregiver,
- “substantial” noncompliance with foster-care contract requirements and agreements resulting in imminent danger to the child’s health, safety or welfare,
- a pending investigations of alleged abuse or neglect by a foster parent or by another resident of the foster home.
Terms for written notification when a child is removed from a foster home are specific. DHS or any other Oklahoma child-placing agency must provide notice five days in advance. That means judicial days – not including weekends, holidays or days when the courts are closed. The agency must also notify the court five days in advance of removing a child.
Notification to foster parents or foster homes must include a written statement of the reasons the child is to be removed. If a foster parent objects to the decision, they may within five days file an objection.
Foster Parents’ Right to a Hearing
When a foster parent objects to the proposed removal of a foster child, DHS child welfare specialists may not remove the child unless and until the court authorizes the change. Upon the filing of an objection to removal of a foster child, the court must schedule a hearing within 15 days to resolve concerns of the foster parents, foster home or other concerned party.
At the informal placement hearing, foster parents or foster home representatives may present reports and testimony about the relationships, experiences, behavior, needs and strengths of the child that might be affected by a move.
Even where child welfare workers allege an emergency reason for immediate physical removal of a child, the alleged emergency many not be used as a pretext to usurp foster parents rights to a hearing. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals in Veda v. DHS, 2002 OK CIV APP 65, noted a difference between immediate physical removal and permanent removal by reassignment to a new foster home.
An emergency decision to remove a child is different than a permanent decision to move a child. Reasonable suspicion that an emergency exists is enough to warrant emergency removal. Such an emergency decision by child protective services is not final.
Oklahoma law allows a court to return a foster child that was removed arbitrarily or contrary to the child’s treatment and service plans. Even if the court upholds an emergency removal, it must state — on the record — why the removal is in the best interests of the foster child.
As a foster parent, like any other parent, you have rights. Foster parents rights in Oklahoma, however, are somewhat different than those of an adoptive parent or biological parent. The main difference is that Oklahoma Dept. of Human Services has a greater role in decisions involving placement, treatment and service for Oklahoma foster children.
DHS may routinely monitor foster families to assure they meet contractual obligations and comply with agreements. That does not mean DHS can yank the rug out from under foster parents anytime a child welfare caseworker does not like something the parents did, or simply dislikes the foster parents.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Foster Parents Attorney
If you are a foster parent or operate your home as a group home for displaced children in foster care, and DHS Child Protective Services attempts to arbitrarily relocate a child from your care, a Tulsa foster parents attorney may be able to help. For a free consultation with a Tulsa foster parents lawyer or Tulsa group home attorney, call Wirth Law Office at (918) 879-1681, or send your question using the form at the top of this page.