Foster parents are an invaluable resource in Pennsylvania. They provide homes to children when the children’s parents cannot or will not provide adequate care. Being a foster parent, with its many rewards, also comes with many frustrations.
In any situation where a child is placed in foster care, there is going to be an open juvenile case with the court. Children and Youth Services (CYS) will almost invariably be involved, as well, and the child will have a Guardian ad litem (GAL). In the juvenile case, the matter is one focused simply on the wellbeing of the child. Initially, the goal of any juvenile case is reunification of the child with its parents. The court will direct that the parents undertake certain tasks to show themselves ready to reassume custody of their child. Eventually, if the parents do not show enough progress to satisfy the court, the goal of the juvenile case will change from reunification to terminating the parental rights and placing the child for adoption.
As one might expect, courts will not lightly terminate a parent’s parental rights. The road from initial placement of a child in foster care to termination of parental rights is a long one, with many twists and some possible setbacks. While a foster family undoubtedly cares very deeply for the child in their care, the juvenile case is one only about the relationship between the child and its parents. Therefore, a foster parent is without much power to move the process along. A foster parent is, for all intents and purposes, a placeholder while the child’s parents attempt to right themselves enough to reassume their parental responsibilities.
This is not to say that a foster parent is not involved in the matter. A foster parent will be called upon to provide the court, GAL, and CYS updates as to the child’s wellbeing. Even if, however, the foster family presents an ideal situation for the child, if the child’s parent follows the court’s directives then the court is most certain to return the child to its parent, as the child’s parent always stands in a legally superior position to the child’s foster parents.
By: John M. Schaffranek, Esquire