Why We Should Welcome Caregiver Participation In the Child Welfare System

By Janet Sherwood 

Janet Sherwood, Deputy Director of Advokids
Janet Sherwood, Deputy Director of Advokids

Foster parents and relative caregivers generally spend more time with a foster child than any other participant in the child welfare system.  Consequently, caregivers are the people who know more about the child’s current needs and well-being than anyone else in the system, including the caseworker, the CASA, the service providers, the child’s attorney and the court.

Because they know the child well, caregivers are often very effective advocates for their foster children. Yet, too often, the system does not value or recognize caregivers as an important resource for direct information about the current physical health, mental health, educational progress, special needs, and overall well-being of the children in their care.

The California Legislature has declared that “foster parents are one of the most important sources of information about the child in their care. Courts, lawyers, and social workers should have the benefit of caregivers’ perceptions. Both federal and state law recognize the importance of foster parents’ participation in juvenile court proceedings. Federal law requires that foster parents and other caregivers receive expanded opportunities for notice, the right to participate in dependency court review and permanency hearings.  State law similarly provides that caregivers may submit their concerns to the courts in writing.” (Welfare and Institutions Code section 16010.4(b).)

In furtherance of this legislative policy, state law requires that caregivers be provided with notice and the opportunity to participate in various hearings in dependency cases. It also requires the county child welfare agency to inform caregivers of their right to provide written information about the child to the court and to provide them with the JV-290 Judicial Council form they may use to do so.

Recently, Advokids, a foster child advocacy organization that I helped found, and three individual foster parents filed a suit against the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services alleging that it routinely fails to give caregivers required notices of hearings, fails to tell them what the hearing will be about or how they can participate in the hearing, and fails to give caregivers the seven-day notice required by law when it decides to move a foster child. Advokids is a plaintiff in this suit because we believe that outcomes for children in foster care are better when caregivers participate in the process and the juvenile court has more, rather than less, information about the child before it decides what is in that child’s best interests.

Caregivers have critical knowledge about the child that no one else has.

Even if the Legislature did not require it, the child welfare system should be welcoming input from caregivers instead of turning them away at the courthouse door. The child welfare system must stop treating caregivers as if they were nothing more than glorified (and poorly paid) babysitters. They must be recognized and treated as part of the “team” working to protect the child and heal the child’s family. When a caregiver expresses a concern that the child’s needs are not being met, we should be listening carefully instead of dismissing the caregiver as a “meddler” who has no business expressing an opinion as to what may or may not be in that child’s best interests.

Janet Sherwood is the Deputy Director of Advokids, an attorney, an NACC certified Child Welfare Specialist, and a State Bar certified appellate specialist with over 30 years of experience in child welfare.

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  1. I am a relative caregiver who had to fight ferociously to keep my great niece with her sister and with me. I was crucified by innuendo and accusations for bringing serious medical concerns up when plan was reunification. I was shut out of the hearings. No standing. Trouble is-a month after”reunification” child was diagnosed with life threatening medical condition that eventually caused her mom to relapse because she was it prepared to support a baby with special needs. I wanted to prepare her. Couldn’t even get heard. Child then returned to me needing neurosurgery, years of therapy for trauma, Etc.i also work as an advocate for children with disabilities in school. Often, successful reinification DEPENDS on getting important info about school progress, medical needs, etc to the parent. Otherwise, reunification can fail.

  2. I agree with the author of this article.
    I fost/adopted two children from LA County DCFS nine years ago. What an ordeal. They were so concerned with making sure the birthparents rights were not trampled upon, one of the children was re-abused in the hospital while recovering from the first, life-threatening physical abuse. But then I find this year, with the birthmothers 8th and 9th living children getting extended family reunification and visits. The court was told by the birthmother that there was only one other child, completely unaware of five other children who were put into the system and adopted, plus at least two children who died with her before any DFS intervention. When I contacted the DCFS hotline upon hearing of #8th’s birth, I was told it was none of my business. I tried to tell them the child was at risk of abuse, but was hut down in the name of Hippa laws. I tried to explain that I was GIVING information to them, to spare this child what the others experienced. The DCFS lack of response allowed this child to be abused for an entire year before being found and detained. Through the social worker I was able to give my contact information to the newest foster adoptive parents of my children’s siblings. They consistently say they are given NO voice in the courtroom, only told that “You are only a foster parent. You can’t speak in the courtroom.” The social worker was surprised that so many other children from the same woman were removed. She said that once a case is closed, they have no access to this information, information that is IN their own computers. What a tragedy for the most recent children. For all these children. It is a huge discouragement for anyone wanting to foster or adopt.

  3. Children in foster care are often abused. Foster parents have a financial incentive to keep these children and have them diagnosed with disorders. If they want to keep the child, they have an emotional and selfish incentive to make things up as they see fit. Giving foster parents too much power in court is not in the interest of justice for parents or children. It would create greater bias than already exists in the family court system.

    Also, fosters answer to CPS. This gives CPS an extra voice in the court. Most Gals are bias as it is, this would likely create even more corruption.

    Foster care has an 80% fail rate. Do we want these same people having even more control of our children? #parentalrights Be careful what you allow. Caregivers should not have rights or be allowed to present “expert knowledge” in regards to our children unless we’ve had our rights lawfully terminated. Allowing this, we risk fighting both foster parents and the state in court for the right to raise our children.Foster parents should not be given our child’s voice.

  4. Placement with extended family has always been a myth. And reunifications are too, imo.

    My trafficker, my daughter’s perp, has had custody for seven years while I am allowed no contact even though my parental rights have not been terminated.

    Cops, public school teachers, and judges participating in the wife swapping culture have control of our children’s futures.

    Placement with extended family was never considered in my case, and reunification joins this propaganda.

    Go ahead and think my case is uncommon if that makes you feel better.

    • PA is consuming my daughters. My oldest lies in a hospital bed four weeks now, chronic pancreatitus, age sixteen. My youngest is now 75% deaf.

      Our government forces tragedies upon us, all the while blaming the natural parent for normal life events.

      John Schafer, this article is propaganda. The agency needs this propaganda, to allow this agency to create it’s busy-ness for their paycheks and pensions; for fosters to mill and gain careers; and for criminals to acquire their victims.

      90% of the 650,000 children who are stolen by the State annually in the USA are unnecessary– maltreatment morphs to suit the unqualified social worker’s whims, and is rubber stamped by their hungry judiciaries.

  5. This article addresses ONE issue only. Whether caregivers, both foster AND relative, should be able to give their input about the child, because they are the people with the most contact with the child and have the most detailed knowledge of the child’s CURRENT state. Well-being, progress, desires, everything. The article does NOT address whether relatives should be considered first when assigning placement so that issue is not relevant to this discussion.

    In the context of what the article covers, I agree with what the author says. The caregiver should have a LOT of input in what the court hears. A case worker who maybe has contact with a child once a month is simply not well enough informed about the child to give solid, accurate input about that child’s day to day existence and/or state of mind. The same goes for a GAL and for a therapist.

    Now that everyone is mad at me, I say this –

    Relatives should, and in MY opinion MUST have primary and PRIME consideration when a child is placed in care. So, when relatives are the caregivers, they would be able to give all the input suggested in the article. The problem here is, the CPS systems do NOT like to place children with relatives and we all know why. The several states need to be sure they have laws in place to insure CPS follows the mandate to place with relatives FIRST, and to make every possible effort to find relative placement before the LAST RESORT foster system is used. If CPS claims they are not able to “find” suitable relatives, they should be required to show hard evidence to that effect.

    In most cases, relatives were excluded from the process of placement, and that is both legally and morally wrong as far as I am concerned. Had relatives been properly included all along, we would not be having this discussion to begin with. Almost all of us have been wronged by the system, me included, so I know how everyone here feels. However, when we are dealing with the possibility of writing legislation, we are forced to do our best to look at the total issue, and keep our personal feelings out of the process. I have literally degraded my own health trying to maintain that mental position.

    • Which is why this should not pass. On a legislative level, this essentially allows for more systematic abuse and bias against parents.

    • This article by Janet Sherwood makes the “Point” and John Shafer hits a “Homer”. Caregivers either Relative or Not and the “CHILD” if at least Age 5 – should be a part of every Hearing for the child it is his/her only chance to be heard and shown they matter.

      A Caregiver priority should go to Relatives with history with the child, then second distant relatives before Foster Care with a Stranger. In Texas most of this is in – The Texas Family Code but they are not followed by the “System of Protection”.

  6. The system is broken. While Foster parents could provide appropriate information if they were a part of the proceedings, there is unfortunately biased information which they may be given that may affect their view. Foster parents often have to fight for appropriate tests and information, as do the parents and grandparents. Unfortunately the majority of Attorneys don’t visit the children who are assigned to them, because they don’t have the time or desire to. Instead of trying to work with the family to resolve the situation when possible, CPS/DHS go to the extreme and remove children. Furthering this is the fact that the “experts” often aren’t truly “experts” and may not even be qualified in the area where they are claiming abuse.

    Even those in medicine specializing in child abuse often get it wrong — whenever there is need for intervention, the first intervention should be in the home with the parents as participants– unless there is a safety issue.

    For those of you who do not know Rachel’s story, a pediatrician specializing in child abuse decided that Rachel was the cause of her breastfed baby not gaining weight. Unfortunately this pediatrician does not have certification in lactation/breastfeeding and was way off base. The consequence — Rachel is still in jail trying to make bail of $105K after 120 days — #socialinjustice in the extreme. Rescue Rachel. You can read Rachel’s story and the open letter to the hospital at http://www.Rescue-Rachel.com. There is also a previous case from the same hospital — of note is that the mother was an emergency physician in the military and the expert doctors at this same hospital did not listen to her.

  7. Marilyn is right here as Janet Sherwood is speaking out on our behalves here for change and what should be happening and Janet thank you so much for doing so as so many families are being denied their families and are being placed with strangers and we need to change this as I truly believe its a problem with the abuse of power from narcissistic social workers and I think we all know that there are kids that are being abused however too many times they are being removed unnecessary and this needs to change. My question to you is how do you feel about the camera’s being mandatory for these social workers? and what are your feelings about the adoption incentives bill? I would hope you have had time to view the video retired social worker from Los Angeles as well as read his book he co-authored with another social worker Melinda Murphy “A culture of fear” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbQ-0KiqnpA What I have learned in my short time my eyes have been opened to this CPS/DCFS there is a lot broken in this system and its been going on for years because these social workers silence these parents and when they make legitimate complaints they go unheard or investigated by same dept! We must abolish the adoption incentive bill would be a huge step in the right direction as well as mandatory camera’s on these case workers all recorded and courts too! Accountability just like what is expected from parents we want the same for these courts! Since Rialto police officers have gotten body camera’s less complaints have been filed http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/04/california-police-body-cameras-cuts-violence-complaints-rialto

  8. I am a grandparent who has been fighting for my grandchildren for years. the foster parents who have my grandchildren have done everything they can to prevent me from getting my grandchildren. When I had phone calls I could hear them in the background saying, “you still want to talk to her.” When I asked if my grandson if he got the birthday present I sent him, he said no and it had been over 3 weeks since it was delivered via UPS at that point the foster father got on the phone and said that’s inappropriate and hung up on me. The kids came to visits saying the were told the real truth about me by their foster family and that they aren’t safe with me and I tell lies. The children and I were very close before CPS involvement it took months and months before they would even let me speak with the kids and hardly a visit and the foster parents worked steadily to undermine our relationship. This has been the worst experience of my entire life. O have been fighting for them for years now and have not seen them in a year. I have spent almost $150,000 on attorney fees and I have never seen anything so crooked in my life. The foster parent put fish oil and hot sauce in their mouths spank them, slap them make them run laps around the house and teach them not to tell what happens in their house. the superintendent of the Michigan Children’s institute who decides all adoptions in Michigan testified he will still consider persons on the abuse and neglect central registry to adopt children.

    • Janet is speaking of caregiver input (relative or foster) in the court hearings. Is this a good idea or not? Let’s focus on that one issue, as this is what Janet is trying to do here.

  9. Foster parents only know what they are told by CPS. The mandate should be that children cannot be removed from their homes without evidence to substantiate any claim made by child services workers. The evidentiary standard should be beyond reasonable doubt. We are talking about the well being of children and removing them for nonsense like many cases we have seen come through our group causes irreparable emotional damage which in effect is the state committing child abuse against the children it is claiming to protect. Bringing foster parents into a juvenile court hearing where the parents are not even heard has no value whatsoever as the evidentiary standard in juvenile court do not protect children or their families. Until the time that the court is required to force child services to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt then families will continue to wrongfully have their children removed and those children will suffer severe emotional trauma that will lead to other issues and potential disabilities. Our children in America are in danger until this is fixed. It is unconscionable that any person who is not formally trained in psychology and or medicine , specializing in child abuse , should have any right whatsoever to make determinations for a child that does not belong to them. Again forcing the courts to prove allegations against the parents which will lead to the removal of a child should require the evidentiary standard of beyond a reasonable doubt as removing a child is the most serious and devastating action that can be taken against the parent and a child.

  10. I read this article with a different perspective than some comments here. I believe that the writer is saying that the caregivers, whether relatives or not, should be included in the court process. They, after all, spend the most time with the children. In our family case, critical information was excluded to the detriment of my grandchild because the foster family was ignored and not notified of the hearings.

    • understood but what appears to be lost is that parents are not being included in the process. Parents are brought into these court hearings and their testimony is often disregarded or not allowed.an experienced investigator looking into a case that is often brought about in child services or juvenile court would easily be able to tell you that there is not evidence to substantiate or support the actions taken. These agencies are continually violating fundamental parental rights which allow parents to raise their children as they see fit. I am NOT referring to a child who has truly been abused I am referring to children who are removed for very sketchy and often twisted statements made by CPS workers in an effort to create a case where a case does not exist. Still, these children are placed into the foster care system without any evidence whatsoever to support such a devastating act. With CPS feeding information to the foster parents how could it possibly help to have the foster parents in the courtroom? The fact remains that until the system is fixed and these wrongful removals do not occur than whether or not a foster parent shows to court to testify or not has little to no benefit to the family who has been constitutionally violated and ethically violated by a greedy state welfare system that is merely trying to meet quotas to affirm their federal funding. When people realize that federal funding is what is driving me complete corruption in the systems then and only then can we start to fix the problem. Every parent should be terrified if they live in America. Every child growing up that will have children and become a parent should be even more terrified as it only seems to be getting worse. We can only pray that there will be a constitutional amendment that can prevent such acts by such corrupt and clearly unethical people who would violate a child in a family a grotesque way.

  11. Please people before thinking about donating to this cause know that the government is lining their pockets and us tax payers are paying for it as this is a kids for cash profit and you do not hear about it because parents are silenced! Please look up you tube senator Nancy Schaefer who exposes what is going on this corruption goes deep! foster parents nor adopted parents know what is really going on they are lead to believe all children whom are in this system have been abused which is not the case and don’t get me wrong some are but not at the level they are claiming! Children whom grandparents and family wanted yet were denied! All for the adoption incentives title 4 funding! It lines the pockets of the judges to the attorneys to social services at the tax payers expense! It is destroying good loving families and yes some have had problems however not at the expense of losing their children then after traumatizing these children they are being medicated! I want cameras on these case workers and everything to be audio and video in all investigations with social workers and in the court rooms! please view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TcDTJlPWbE
    and retired social worker Julian Domingez https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbQ-0KiqnpA

  12. I am so glad that you were able to fight for your rights to be caregivers in a California court. However I want to see somebody really fight for the rights of children. The day that a lawyer takes my case, and doesn’t back down when pressured because they don’t want people knowing how bad they broke the law in my case then I will believe. I have all of the documentation court records, tapes, etc. etc. etc. However the lawyers here have now learned they are not allowed to make my case public. I have already had 4 and the Oklahoma Supreme Court got rid of the last one. The media has also been warned not to expose my case or they will be fired 2 reporters have already been fired.

  13. Not really going to comment too much on this post other than yes Foster Care Givers should Share their opinions, as well as the Parents that have been accused.

    But for additional research I encourage everyone to:
    1)Realize the Original intent of even creating the Agency..ie Protecting Children ~ Strengthening Families. Noting, not necessarily an order of priority to do so.
    Side note: Many do not realize that the “intended” label was supposed to be Foster “Care Givers” and not Foster “Parents’ since the task of care givers was supposed to be a “Temporary” solution.

    2)”Reasonable Efforts” ORIGINAL INTENT “”In 1980, Congress passed the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. 1 The Adoption Assistance Act requires, in part, that states receiving federal monies under the Act make “reasonable efforts” to prevent the removal of children from their homes and, whenever possible, to reunify children placed in foster care with their families.”
    NOTING that the additional Amendments and Acts have diluted this very important priority. (The Website Link will directly take you to the Web Page relating to Reasonable Efforts… But do spend time exploring this site.

    3)By Fed. Standards, a Relative Care Giver’s requirements was only supposed to be one that is “Willing” and “Able” to be able to care for the child. Of course many of the Social Security Acts have prevented payment if said Relative doesn’t meet other requirements and, in many cases funding was not authorized.

    So yes, we should ALL be considered a Team to hopefully meet these requirements..ie Protecting Children and Strengthening Families.

    As expressed in your post, and must agree, Too many times the Agency is refusing to be part of the Team… Or did I miss something?.

    As a final remark, please consider this “Vision”:
    “We are joining forces with all persons affected by Parens Patriae to include parents, extended family, foster parents and father’s and mother’s rights groups. While this is a difficult endeavor due to various divisions, the focus will be on challenging the system with the unified goals and commonalities that each is suffering under in family courts and through CPS.”

    • I appreciate that you have mentioned the origins of the issues we are currently dealing with because until we get to the “core” of the problem, which is the federal funding, all of the solutions to the surface problems will be in vain. I recognize some familiar activists names and wondered if all of you are aware that the federal funding that is offered to the states in the name of child welfare is optional? Our state legislatures have to vote to accept this funding and the funding comes with strings, “assurances and certifications” that the governor has to sign. Each funding program has its own set of strings, some being, the state’s assurance to not prosecute child abuse reporters, confidentiality of cases and the “cooperation” of agency, law enforcement and judicial entities, to name a few. Our state legislators have sold out the civil rights and due process of their constituents to gain funding in the name of child welfare, which has now grown into a monster industrial complex.
      If any of you would like more information on this, feel free to contact me at nancyaaugustine@aol.com.

  14. Ok this sounds like a way to get around CASA which is supposed to be the same thing. People who advocate for kids. Why do we need this other organization is it because people like me have proven that CASA doesn’t really care about the kids they only care about doing what DHS/CPS wants them to do. Then there are the ones who only care about lining their pockets. As in the case of Anna Naukam who I tried to tell them was a crook. They got mad at me and told me what a good employee she was. Then the immediately made her employee of the year and then 30 days later found out I was telling the truth when the discovered she has stolen $625,000 from the children’s fund. Now did they say thank you no they did not all I got was harassed even more for butting my nose in where it didn’t belong.

    • Dana you are right when cps came here to “target” me because they said “anonymous” call which I know came from their own dept. (how many more anonymous calls come from their dept.?) Why ask me about my face book page T.E.A.R.S group? I was told they need me to guide parents through the system and I could be paid for it! I said why would I want to guide parents through something so broken? I want to find a solution to “fix it” and then was told about children’s center in San Diego so I pointed at my van that I have painted/decorated to bring Ender home as he was in same type of facilities and you want to hear something when I went to pass out flyers to the people in the neighborhood of that molester foster parent who molested that 2 month old baby boy in San Diego and to educate them about foster placements such as that could have been my grandbaby that was placed with that man! I told everyone why they don’t try and place and willing to risk kids but the next door neighbor to this man was a school teacher and she had a lot to say about those poor kids in the children’s center in San Diego! I told her I wonder how many kids could really be placed in loving homes with grandparents and were denied for the almighty dollar? I am wanting to know who the parents were to the baby who was molested by that creep! I want to know was there family like in my case stepping forward and denied their family? I am sick of this broken system and we really need to educate families all over! I see way to many states denying families and wont let them step forward and this has got to STOP!

  15. I must add Ms. Sherwood, relative placement must be FIRST and it must become mandatory that the courts show they considered the relative…. Sadly, in my case, I am a maternal grandmother the social workers said one thing that was not true, yet I had no right in the court room to defend their hearsay allegations which were just that…. I should of been allowed in the court room from day one also there was no need for the Agency to take Jurisdiction over my Grandson when my daughter and the father told them they surrendered Angel to me and we would of had it all Court documented so that Angel would be protected by me…. I feel this agency needs to be held to a higher state of accountability there is no one over them no one to complain to… All activities with this agency should be recorded and no social worker should be able to talk to a parent or child without their attorney present, like Miranda RIGHTS PLEASE…. I lost my Grandson that I tried to protect before birth for nine months bonded with him for a month and half daily in the hospital as sadly he was born addicted cps would not help me while she was carrying him as he was not born, what a SHAME AND I AM DAMN ANGRY THERE NEEDS TO BE A LOT MORE CHANGE…. and there should be an Attorney that would take my case as my due process rights were not given and my grandson was adopted out on lies I fought two years Pro per no one would help me….

  16. This seems obvious, but the people in child welfare with the Master’s Degrees who have never raised children want to believe they know it all.

    • Ramona: I don’t know what state your from, but here in Texas the only requirement to become a CPS case worker is a bachelor’s degree in ANY field. Therefore, the person who sold you your house last year is the same one who is terminating your parental rights today.

    • In Oklahoma you would be surprised to find out how many workers don’t have degrees. When I asked how come that was they said Oklahoma does not require caseworkers to have degrees.

    • Whether it is a Bachelors or a Masters, really doesn’t matter. What matters is how one applies the various statutes; and policies and procedures.
      For example in the State statute summary for Placement of Children with Relatives, here is a sentence referring to the the Federal Requirements>> “Federal law requires that they “consider giving preference to an adult relative over a nonrelated caregiver when determining placement for a child, provided that the relative caregiver meets all relevant State child protection standards.” Most States give preference or priority to relative placements in their statutes.”<<
      Of course, many in the Agency have sorta fudged this and unfortunately looked for excuses why this shouldn't happen.
      Noting also in the complexity of Social Security Title IV, in reality all a relative has to be is "Willing" and "Able".. Many relatives, if contacted, would certainly be "Willing" and "Able".
      So, yet again, have those in the agency made Reasonable Effort to do so? If not, one needs to ask why by not being afraid to speak up.

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