While much has been written about the foster care system it is important to remember that Foster Parents are people that have opened up their homes, and in most cases their hearts, to take in frightened children who are the victims of abuse and neglect while their cases are working their way through the system. While those foster families are not perfect, and some are better than others, they are, for the most part, places of sanctuary for children in limbo.
In general, most people agree that, if at all possible, families should remain together. Parents have wide latitude in how they may raise their children. Current law only allows the government to remove children from their parents’ care in cases where the health and/or safety of the child have been placed at risk, by cases of abuse and neglect for instance. Even then, courts have maintained, that the government has a responsibility to help the parents overcome the problem that led to the removal of their children from their family. To this end child welfare agencies provide parenting training and counseling to help parents bring their children home.
There are times, though, that it not possible to make the biological family environment safe for children. In those cases a court will move to terminate parental rights (TPR). In short the court is declaring that the biological parents cannot provide a safe and healthy environment to raise the children. This termination of parental rights clears the way for the child welfare agency to seek new, adoptive parents for the child.
Permanently removing a child from their natural parents is not a decision made lightly. Most courts try to error on the side of keeping families together. All too often, it seems that the court errors and the returned children end up suffering again. Actually, in the vast majority of cases where children are returned to their parents, their home life is improved and the children go on to live a safe and healthy life with their natural family. It is only because the failures make for such stark news reports that we hear about the system failures, and not the successes.
Generally speaking, the child welfare agency is obligated to seek a TPR judgment if a child has been in the foster care system for 15 of the last 22 months. This rule was established to ensure that each child gets the best chance for a stable family situation as quickly as possible. If the family has already had a TPR judgment entered on another child or if there has been sexual abuse and neglect of a minor in the home, the child welfare agency can fast track the request for a TPR judgment based on the idea that such situations may never be made safe. Still it is the family court judge that must make the final decision on terminating parental rights.
The child welfare system in this country is responsible for ensuring that all children have a healthy and safe home life. Every attempt is made to ensure that that takes place in the home of the child’s natural parents. When that is not possible, the various agencies step in and remove the child from the unsafe environment. If it is not possible to change that environment the children are permanently removed and moved towards adoption.