I am a teen parent in foster care. What are my rights?
Authored By: National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
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If you are under the age of 18, in foster care, and have a child of your own, you have certain rights and responsibilities you should know about.
The information below was last updated in 2003. There may be new information available today. However, reading about the laws, regulations, and court cases may be useful to you. At the end of this page, there are offices you can call for help.
WHO HAS CUSTODY OF MY CHILD IF I AM IN FOSTER CARE?
You do, unless the child welfare agency (Administration for Children's Services, or ACS) has taken you to court to remove custody from you, or you have signed papers giving ACS custody.
DO I HAVE TO GIVE UP CUSTODY OF MY CHILD BECAUSE I AM IN FOSTER CARE MYSELF?
No. As long as you do not endanger your child, you and your child have a right to be treated as a family - you should be able to continue living together, and your child should receive all of the funds and services that are available to you as part of foster care. [These rights are guaranteed because of a court decision in a case called In the Matter of Tyriek W, 628 N.Y.S.2d 615, 652 N.E.2d 168, 85 N.Y.2d 774 (1995)]
AM I RESPONSIBLE FOR CARING FOR MY CHILD WHILE I AM IN A FOSTER CARE HOME?
Yes. As long as you have custody of your child, you have the duty to make sure your child is cared for. You can work with your foster parents to share taking care of your child, but, in the end, you are responsible.
WHERE WILL WE LIVE?
You and your child will be placed together. It is ACS's policy to try to find you a foster family who will take both you and your child. [18 N.Y.C.R.R.§§ 430.10(b)(4)-(5), 423.4 (g)(2)] However, sometimes it can be hard to find a foster family who is willing to take a mother and child, so some teen moms and their babies are placed in a group home or some place similar.
Wherever you and your child live, it must be a safe place for babies:
- The home cannot be dangerous to you or your child's safety and health; for example, it cannot have exposed electrical wires or other hazards.
- There must be at least one fire extinguisher and no fire hazards in the home; for example, windows that open onto fire escapes can't have locked gates.
- Your child should get his/her own crib; the crib should have sheets, blankets, and a plastic mattress cover.
- There cannot be more than two babies at a time living in a foster home; this includes the foster parents' own children.
- You and your child should have a comfortable, clean and safe home. [18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 444.5]
HOW DO I SUPPORT MY CHILD IF I AM IN FOSTER CARE?
If you have custody of your child and you both live together in the same foster home, your foster care agency will support your child by giving your foster family money to pay for the needs of you and your child. [18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 426.3(i)] The foster care agency will give your foster family money to buy clothing, diapers and food for you and your child. [18 N.Y.C.R.R. §§ 426.2(c), 427.3(a)]
HOW DO I GET MEDICAL CARE FOR MY CHILD IF I AM IN FOSTER CARE?
Your foster care agency will provide medical treatment for you and your baby. You are the only person who can agree to medical treatment for your child. However, if there is an emergency and you are not available, the foster care caseworker or foster mother must act responsibly to get medical care for him or her.
CAN I STILL BE ADOPTED IF I HAVE A CHILD?
Yes. You can be adopted and keep legal custody of your child. You are entitled to federal money that will help your adoptive family support you and your child. Your adoptive family will be repaid for the money they spend on your child's needs. [N.Y.C.R.R. §426.5 (b)(3) (18 N.Y.C.R.R §426.7]
CAN I PUT MY CHILD IN PLACEMENT WHILE I AM IN FOSTER CARE?
Yes. You may voluntarily give up custody of your child if you are not able to care for the child. However, ACS discourages teenage mothers from placing their children. Case workers should first try to figure out if there are any services to help you so you and your baby can stay together. They are required to make a reasonable effort to provide these services to you. [Social Services Law 358-a] These services help you adjust to parenthood by giving you support and parenting skills training.
You may give up legal custody of your child only after the agency has made reasonable efforts to keep you and your child together. [18 N.Y.C.R.R. §423.4 (g)(2)] If you still want to give up custody temporarily, you may sign a "voluntary placement agreement," which will give legal custody of your child to ACS.
When you sign this agreement, which is a contract, you are giving up some of your rights as a parent, such as the right to say where your child will live and when you can visit your child. Make sure you carefully read, and understand, this contract. It is a very good idea to talk to a lawyer before you sign anything. For help getting advice from a lawyer without charge, you can call the lawyer you had when you went into placement (if you had one), or call one of the following places, which specialize in helping teenagers:
121 Avenue of the Americas (entrance at 555 Broome St.)
Youth Advocacy Center
281 Sixth Avenue
When you decide that you want your child back, you must ask ACS in writing. (A phone call is not enough.) Then ACS has 20 days to decide what they will do. They can decide to return your child, or they can take you to court and ask the judge to let ACS keep your child in foster care. Then the decision will be up to the judge.
WHY WOULD ACS BE ABLE TO TAKE MY CHILD AWAY FROM ME WHILE I AM IN FOSTER CARE?
If ACS caseworkers decide that your child's safety is at risk, ACS may take custody of your child and place your child in a separate foster home.
When your child is taken from you, it is considered a legal "removal " and ACS must take you to court. They can only take your child away if there is a strong danger that your child will be harmed in your custody. [Article 10 of the Family Court Act; 18 N.Y.C.R.R. Part 432]
I HAVE LOST CUSTODY OF MY CHILD AND I WANT TO GET CUSTODY BACK.
WHAT SHOULD I DO?
You are entitled to a service plan to help you keep custody of your child or get your child back. [18 N.Y.C.R.R. §430.10(1)(ii)(e)] Service plans should look at your child's health, behavior and skills, and assess how well you can deal with the needs of your child. The service plan must detail what must be done to meet your child's needs, and who has to do it. [18 N.Y.C.R.R. §423.4 (b) - (c)] The agency must help you to stay in school or to get a job.
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
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