In most states, foster parents can retain an attorney and participate in their foster child’s custody hearings after the child has been with them for 12 months. I always knew I had this right in New York state, but I never thought I’d use it. After all, I want to be the support system, not hire it.
Everything about retaining an attorney to represent me in family court is counterintuitive to the reason I’ve made this life decision. I became a foster parent to support families and to help out parents who needed some time to get back on their feet. Fighting against parents in court, with the hopes of keeping their child, is not something I want to do. I came in to foster care with the hopes of being helpful and encouraging, but there can be a lot of hard situations that come out of it. (Maybe I should have just become a vegetarian … )
It has always felt to me that the act of hiring an attorney violates the ultimate act of trust that is the essence of becoming a foster parent. I have to trust that the children who are brought to me absolutely had to be taken from their parents to keep them safe. I also have to trust that the same children will be returned to their family only if the safety concerns have been remedied. I have to trust that my interests are best served when my foster child’s interests are best served. And I do trust that my foster children have competent, compassionate attorneys working hard to do what’s best for them. If it wasn’t for that trust, I would go insane. The lack of control that I have over why, when, and how long a foster child is placed with me would be debilitating without a foundation of trust in the powers that be.
In addition, I was always hesitant to have an attorney because it felt like an unfair way for me to use the abundance of resources I have in comparison to the parents of my foster kids. Let’s face it, lack of resources and usually poverty, is the main reason children are in foster care — but that’s a whole other issue. I have resources that I want to share, not use them against someone. While I may not have a lot of money, my education, research skills, experience in advocacy work and network of friends all translate in to having a resource-rich life. Using these resources to find a pro-bono attorney is a last resort.
But, despite all my reservations, sometimes you have to do what’s best, rather than what you want. So even though I am in a place where I do trust my current foster daughter’s attorneys and case workers to do what is best for her, I had to make a decision. After a lot of careful consideration and sleepless nights, I’ve retained my own foster parent attorney. I’ve seen so many times in family court where a judge asks a simple question about a case and none of the attorneys know the answer. I sit, wanting to shout it out. (Recently, I’ve done just that.) The judge has been receptive, but I take it as a cue to be represented by counsel. Attorneys in family court have dozens and dozens of cases. They have very little time to get to know the foster children’s parents and the circumstances that led to foster care placement. Adding another legal professional can only help, right? By having an attorney, I can feel reassured that I did my best for my foster daughter. And in the end, that is all that matters.More On