NH Foster Parent Frequently Asked Questions & Tips
Can the judge make me a "party" to my foster child's case?
Foster parents in NH are not a party to a foster child's abuse/neglect case. This means that as a foster parent you do not have legal standing. Although the judge may consider your point of view and might find that a foster parent’s information is relevant, reliable, and necessary to determine the child’s best interests, you are not entitled to have an attorney accompany you into the courtroom for typical review hearings, you may not file pleadings or bring forward evidence, and you are not allowed to advance a particular position or plan for a child.
If you are represented by counsel for any reason as a foster parent and have not been made party to the case, know that your attorney will most likely only be able to go as far as the court waiting area if he/she accompanies you to court. However, a foster parent's attorney should be able to provide support to you if someone from the case wants to meet with you privately about your role as a foster parent and the conversation is not about your foster child. It is your right as a citizen of the U.S. to seek counsel, even just for informational purposes or support. Foster parents throughout the U.S. are sometimes told that they do not have a right to counsel because they are not a party to the case. Only the latter part is true. Hiring an attorney to defend your position regarding your foster child's well-being may not be acceptable, but you always have a Constitutional Right to counsel.
Keep in mind that you may find sources on the internet indicating that the judge has the ability to make a foster parent a party to an abuse and neglect case, but it's important to recognize that this almost never happens- so if you have an objection to reunification or a birth parent's ability to care for his/her child be aware that you will not be allowed to voice these objections in court. Foster parents in NH are generally not granted party status and motions to intervene have not been successful.
How do I put my concerns in writing?
If you believe that your foster child requires certain services or support he/she is not currently receiving you should put your concerns in writing. It might be helpful to email the CASA/GAL and cc the CPSW to be sure your concerns are documented. If you wish to include your concerns in your foster parent court report it's best to be brief and you must be purely objective. Be prepared that the CASA/GAL has the right to share your letter with the court, birth parents and/or the CPSW. Click HERE to see a sample letter for CASA.
DCYF under the supervision of DHHS allows foster parents to submit reports to the court, however there is no standardized form for NH foster parents to follow. See: A Resource Guide to Assist Families with Foster Care Adoption and Permanency Supports pages 6 & 15. According to the new foster parent law, 170-E:52(VI), pursuant to NH RSA 169-C:14, the foster parent shall receive notice of all court proceedings, may submit written reports, and, at the court's discretion, may attend such hearings and provide oral reports of the child's behavior, progress, and developmental, educational, and healthcare needs. Granite State College offers a free 12-hour online training course for NH foster parents and relative caregivers for the state called Documentation for Court and Case Review. Click HERE to see a sample court report or to learn more about a free documentation course that is offered to licensed NH foster parents.
Click HERE to learn more about how to write a court report.
There are a multitude of foster parent court reports available to view online. Some are standardized forms while others provide a format conducive to a foster parent's rights to be heard by the court. Click HERE to see a list of online resources for writing a court report.
Can I record my conversations with DCYF or my home visits?
Citizens have a right to record any employee of a government agency, however recording DCYF interferes with the confidentiality clause related to state laws and the expectations of foster parents. Sharing a recording of a discussion with a government employee about a foster child or details related to an abuse/neglect case with someone who is not a party to the case or is not an employee under DHHS or DCYF, is a violation of the foster parent confidentiality clause. NH Law: RSA 170-E:35 and NHDHHS Administrative Rule He-C 6446.25(e) Record Keeping and Confidentiality: All identifying information, whether written, oral, imagery, or electronic, concerning the child in care, family of the child in care, or the circumstances of the child’s situation shall be kept confidential.
Can I consult a specialist to assess my foster child's best interests?
Foster parents are not allowed to seek unauthorized consultations by therapists or behavioral experts such as a bonding or attachment specialist unless they have been made party to a case. Remember, you are not allowed to share information about a child's case without permission. If you violate confidentiality DCYF may remove your foster child from your home without warning, issue an official order to comply and/or revoke your foster care license. He-C 6446.29(d)1 Denials and Revocations: indicates that this violates the provisions of the [foster parent] license and the department shall revoke a license for foster family care. Confidentiality is also addressed on page 3 of the NH foster parent handbook. If you have concerns, it is recommended that you reach out to the child's CASA volunteer. He/she is appointed by the court and has a significant role in determining "best interests" (see below).
What is the role of the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)?
A CASA volunteer advocates for the child’s best interests. The advocate become the “eyes and ears” of the court, making independent, objective recommendations to the judge based on the information they have gathered through meeting with the child and his or her parents, foster parents, social workers, school teachers, therapists and more. CASA volunteer advocates are trained to help the child navigate this process efficiently so he or she may find stability in a safe, permanent, loving home as quickly as possible while enduring the least amount of trauma and upheaval. Retrieved from: https://dev-casa-new-hampshire.pantheonsite.io/who-we-are/how-we-help/
Judges use the "best interest of the child" standard when making their decisions in child abuse and neglect cases. Child welfare and juvenile court practitioners and scholars have debated the meaning of "best interest of the child" for years. Books have been written on the subject; however, there is still no concise legal definition for this standard. (p.10) Retrieved from: http://www.prokids.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Chap-1-Dec-2016.pdf
National CASA interprets the “best interest of the child” standard to mean that to determine the best interest of the child, the CASA volunteer should know the child they are appointed, to advocate for well enough to form fact-based recommendations to the court that address the child’s needs, and know appropriate resources to meet those needs. The CASA volunteer also informs the court of the child’s wishes, whether or not those wishes are, in the opinion of the CASA volunteer, in the child’s best interest. (p. 6)
The National CASA organization promotes family reunification from a strength-based perspective and represents that as long as the child's family meets or can be helped to meet the "minimum sufficient level of care" (MSLC) required for the safety of that child, the child belongs with his or her family (p. 11). If the child’s home meets this standard, then the child should be home. The MSLC is determined by a number of factors, each of which must be looked at specifically in relation to the case at hand. This means that all basic needs must be met and the child is not harmed physically, sexually, or emotionally. Retrieved from: http://www.prokids.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Chap-1-Dec-2016.pdf & https://www.rccasa.org/filelibrary/05_CASA_ISE_Vol_1008.pdf
MSLC is meant as a minimum, not an ideal. The terms “minimum” and “sufficient” are crucial to this concept; the standard is related to the objective of keeping children safe and protected. The terms “minimum” and “sufficient” are used to explicitly differentiate from higher standards. The MSLC must remain consistent for the duration of the case. Once the MSLC is developed for a given child, it does not change throughout the life of the family’s case unless the needs of the child change (e.g., child develops a high risk health condition). When a child is in placement, the decision about reunification must be based on the same MSLC baselines as when the child was removed. Retrieved from: http://chss.nmsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2013/10/4-Case-Plan-Participant.v3.0.pdf
The following is a summary of the National CASA standards for CASA volunteer work:
• Reviewing records;
• Interviewing appropriate parties involved in the case, including the child;
• Determining whether a permanent plan has been created for the child and whether appropriate services, including reasonable efforts, are being provided to the child and family;
• Submitting a signed written report with recommendations to the court on what placement, visitation plan, services, and plan are in the best interest of the child;
• Attending court hearings; and
• Maintaining complete records about the case, including appointments scheduled, interviews held, and information gathered about the child and the child’s life circumstances. (p. 9) Retrieved from: http://www.prokids.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Chap-1-Dec-2016.pdf
What do I do if I think that the CASA/GAL is not acting in a child's best interests?
If you have concerns about a child's CASA/GAL keep in mind that it is not appropriate to complain to the child's CPSW or DCYF supervisor and could make matters worse. DCYF has been known to remove foster children without warning when a foster parent expresses concerns about a CASA/GAL. Remember, CASAs/GALs are independent from DCYF. If you have valid concerns that you need assistance with, please contact us directly for direction and guidance.
For more information about NH state and national standards for CASAs click: HERE
What is the difference between a CASA and a GAL?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a trained citizen appointed as a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) by the District or Family Court judge to represent a child victim in cases of abuse and neglect. Simply put, CASA volunteers serve as GALs in child abuse and neglect cases. Retrieved from: https://casanh.org/who-we-are/faqs/
• A GAL is a professional (most often an attorney) appointed by the court to perform an independent investigation and to make recommendations to the court regarding the best interests of a child and are paid for his/her services.
• A CASA/GAL serves as an advocate for children in abuse or neglect cases. Although a CASA’s role is very similar to that of just a GAL, a CASA only works on abuse or neglect cases or derivative termination of parental rights.
All NH CASAs are held to GAL standards as defined by law RSA 458:17-a and brought forth in the statutory responsibilities of the Guardian ad Litem Board's rules pursuant to RSA 490-C. These rules establish ethical standards and standards of practice to maintain a high standard of integrity and professionalism in the activities of CASAs/GALs certified in this state. According to the Guardian ad Litem Board, CASA will be bound by the agreements in the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding, notwithstanding the fact that its volunteers and supervisory staff are not certified by the Board.
What do I do if I have knowledge that my foster child's birth-parent is involved in substance misuse, has engaged in illegal activities, was arrested, or is in jail/prison?
Arrest records for adults are public information which anyone is entitled to. Some information is available by doing an internet search, other information is available at the police station or court house in the town/city of the incident. Evidence is admissible in court by parties of the abuse/neglect case only. If the child's CASA/GAL, CPSW or DCYF Supervisor is not taking your concerns seriously, please contact us directly for direction and guidance.
Every adult in NH is, by law, a mandated reporter for childhood abuse and neglect. If you believe that a child you care for could be in danger, contact the child's CPSW and CASA . If you believe a child is immediate danger or have information that you don't feel comfortable sharing with the team, call the Central Intake Unit at 1-800-894-5533. See RSA 169-C:29 to read more about NH's mandated reporter law and persons required to report.
As a foster parent you are not allowed to submit evidence about a birth parent or a birth parent's family and you are not allowed to include an evidence-related attachment to your foster parent court report. Your foster child's CASA/GAL or CPSW may choose to submit relevant information such as a printout of an arrest record, news clipping or social media print-outs, but be forewarned, by presenting this information to others on the team you might appear resistant to reunification and there could be serious consequences for you and your foster child. Click HERE to learn how to write a letter to a CASA/GAL.
Can I share texts, instant messages, emails or pictures I've received from anyone, such as the birth parents or other foster parents with a child's CPSW, CASA or Judge?
NO, this is against the law and a violation of NH law RSA 570-A unless you get permission from the other party. If a CPSW or CASA/GAL shows you texts from a birth parent or another foster parent in relation to a child's abuse/neglect or adoption case and asks you to confirm your correspondence, you must refuse participation as this action is against the law and would make you an accomplice to the unlawful interception of telecommunications. RSA 570-A:2 I (d) states: A person is guilty of a class B felony if, except as otherwise specifically provided in this chapter or without the consent of all parties to the communication, the person . . . [w]ilfully uses, or endeavors to use, the contents of any telecommunication or oral communication, knowing or having reason to know that the information was obtained through the interception of a telecommunication or oral communication in violation of this paragraph. Pursuant to RSA 570-A:6, an intercepted telecommunication may not be used as evidence in a trial, hearing, or any other court proceeding.
Sharing telecommunications is also a very serious Federal crime. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 1050 Scope of 18 U.S.C § 2511 Prohibitions, Section 2511 of Title 18 prohibits the unauthorized interception, disclosure, and use of wire, oral, or electronic communications. Consequently, unless an interception is specifically authorized, it is impermissible and, assuming existence of the requisite criminal intent, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2511. Section 2511(1)(a) is a blanket prohibition against the intentional interception, endeavor to intercept, or procurement of another person to intercept or endeavor to intercept any wire, oral, or electronic communication. Retrieved from: https://www.justice.gov/usam/criminal-resource-manual-1050-scope-18-usc-2511-prohibitions
The Federal Wiretap Act found at 18 U.S.C. § 2520, protects individual privacy in communications with other people by imposing civil and criminal liability for intentionally intercepting communications using a device, unless that interception falls within one of the exceptions in the statute. Although the Federal Wiretap Act originally covered only wire and oral conversations (e.g., using a device to listen in on telephone conversations), it was amended in 1986 to cover electronic communications as well (e.g., emails or other messages sent via the Internet). Retrieved from: https://www.mwl-law.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/LAWS-ON-RECORDING-CONVERSATIONS-CHART.pdf
What is a FAIR meeting?
FAIR stands for Family Assessment and Inclusive Reunification. According to the DHHS DCYF 2015-2019 Child and Family Services Plan, the primary focus of FAIR is to engage families in achieving the best permanency plan for their case from the beginning of the placement (p. 6). In attendance should be birth parent(s), foster parent(s), CPSW, CASA/GAL and the FAIR Coordinator and the foster child. Birth parents may also have a supportive person present such as a relative or his/her attorney. This meeting should not take place in the foster home.
A FAIR meeting is meant to be a positive and proactive experience to which you may participate in. As an active member of the team, you should sit at the table with the rest of the team and not just be in attendance to provide supervision to your foster child. Since this is intended to be an inspirational meeting which focuses on a birth parent's achievements, it is not a place to voice any complaints about the case and you should refrain from providing any negative feedback. If you don't agree with any aspect of the FAIR plan or notice an inaccuracy in information shared at the meeting, make a note, add it to your foster parent documentation/records, and address this with your foster child's CPSW and CASA/GAL at a later time. For more information about FAIR click HERE and go to pages 140-141.
Retrieved from: f (pp. 140-141).
See: The Resource Guide to Assist Families with Foster Care Adoption and Permanency Supports for NH foster parents (p. 6).
Can the "Office of Child Advocate" help me or my foster child?
The Office of the Child Advocate was established in 2018 as part of an aggressive commitment to reform NH’s child welfare system. They are an independent and impartial state office established to oversee DCYF. To learn more and find out how to file a complaint, click HERE.
According to a recent news article about the Office of the Child Advocate:
A new state official responsible for protecting New Hampshire children wants them and the adults responsible for them to be able to contact her directly at the Office of the Child Advocate if they're having issues with the Division of Children, Youth and Families.
Director O'Neill said if someone contacted her office to question DCYF practices — which they already have — she still takes action, though it's not legally required for her to do so. She provided examples of the the types of problems people could reach out with: A child in an unsafe foster home assigned a social worker who isn't intervening; a foster parent who isn't receiving state help with an uncooperative child; or DCYF employees dealing with departmental issues.
"It comes down to state government being accessible to everyone," O'Neill said. "People really need to understand that they should contact us if all other remedies for DCYF problems have been exhausted."
To contact the Office of the Child Advocate call: 603-271-7773 or toll free at 833-NHCHILD
The office is located at 121 South Fruit St. in Concord.
What should I do if DCYF wants to meet with me about my role as a foster parent?
Consider utilizing support when you meet with a CPSW, DCYF supervisor or attorney regarding delicate issues (concerns, orders to comply, special investigations, allegations) that are directly related to your role as a foster parent or your foster parent license. It is recommended that you do not meet alone, but please note that case specific information is confidential, so a support person such as a friend, religious leader or attorney may not be able to be present for the entire conversation. Bring any supportive documentation with you and always take notes or ask permission to record your conversation. It's often helpful to write down who is present in the meeting and what was said. Keep in mind that it is alright to ask a participant to repeat themselves so that you can properly quote them in your notes. Include the date, time, reason for the meeting and what was said and try to include as many direct quotes as possible. Extra tip: Exercise discretion if you send an email to anyone involved in your foster child's case or about your role as a foster parent. These emails become a part of the case history, and/or your permanent foster parent file.
All foster parents have a Constitutional Right to counsel for any reason and may also use their own attorney if they are petitioning the court to terminate a birth parents' rights (TPR) or adopting a child. Foster parents are sometimes told that they do not have a right to counsel because they are not a party to the case. Only the latter part is true. You should not hire an attorney expecting to defend your position regarding the case or your foster child's well-being, unless you have filed TPR or you are seeking adoption. It's important to recognize that it is a foster parent's right as a citizen of the U.S. to seek counsel, even just for information or support. If you are represented by an attorney for support at a review hearing, know that your attorney will most likely only be able to go as far as the court waiting area if he/she accompanies you to court unless given special permission by the Judge.
Don't forget about confidentiality. NH Law: RSA 170-E:35 and NHDHHS Administrative Rule He-C 6446.25(e) Record Keeping and Confidentiality: All identifying information, whether written, oral, imagery, or electronic, concerning the child in care, family of the child in care, or the circumstances of the child’s situation shall be kept confidential. He-C 6446.29(d)1 Denials and Revocations: indicates that this violates the provisions of the [foster parent] license or permit and the department shall revoke a license or permit for foster family care. Confidentiality is also addressed on page 3 of the NH foster parent handbook.
What if I receive an official Order to Comply?
An Order to Comply is sent to foster parents who fail to continue to meet the foster family care licensing requirements for which they were originally licensed. An order may restrict any aspect of a license or permit for a period of up to 60 days to allow the foster parents to correct the conditions leading to non-compliance. The agency and the foster parents must jointly develop a corrective action plan. If the violation does not threaten the health and safety of the child, the child in care may remain in the home, but foster parents may not receive any new placement of children while an Order to Comply is outstanding. If the violation leading to the Order is not corrected within 60 days, the permit or license may be revoked. According to He-C 6446.27(f) you have only 14 calendar days from the date the order to comply was issued to to dispute the findings and request an informal dispute resolution from DCYF, and you must do this in writing (see below). If you don't feel as if you are being treated fairly, contact the Office of the Child Advocate for assistance. Retrieved from: https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dcyf/adoption/documents/foster-adopt-resource-guide.pdf p. 7
According to NH Administrative Rule He-C 6446.27 Orders to Comply and Immediate Removal of Children In Care:
(a) The licensing agency shall issue a foster parent a written order to comply if the foster parent violates the foster family care licensing requirements in He-C 6446 and the violation is not related to the health, safety or well-being of the child in care.
(b) The written order to comply shall:
(1) Specify each violation of He-C 6446;
(2) Advise that the foster parent has up to a maximum of 60 days from the date of the corrective action plan in (c) below to correct the violation(s);
(3) Specify the action that will be taken with regard to the license if the foster parent fails to correct the violation(s) identified in the order to comply; and
(4) Be filed with the department’s foster care program manager.
(c) Within 14 days of the date of the order to comply, the licensing agency and the foster parent shall jointly develop a corrective action plan to correct the violations.
(d) The foster parent shall not accept any additional children in care, children for respite care, or children in a pre-adoptive placement:
(1) After receiving an order to comply as specified in (c) above and prior to the development of a corrective action plan; or
(2) During an ongoing investigation of alleged child abuse or neglect.
(e) DCYF shall offer an opportunity for informal dispute resolution to any foster parent who disagrees with a violation cited by DCYF on an order to comply, provided that the foster parent submits a written request for an informal dispute resolution.
(f) The informal dispute resolution shall be requested in writing by the foster parent no later than 14 days from the date the order to comply was issued by DCYF.
(g) DCYF shall review the evidence presented and provide a written notice to the foster parent of its decision.
(h) An informal dispute resolution shall not be available for any foster parent against whom DCYF has initiated action to revoke a license or deny a renewal license.
(i) If any violations identified present a risk to the health, safety, or well-being of the child in care, the department shall immediately, and with any court approval required by law, remove the child in care from the foster home without issuing an order to comply.
(j) The department shall revoke the license or permit of the foster parents without issuing an order to comply if there is a founded report of child abuse or neglect for a foster parent and shall revoke the license or permit of the foster parents without issuing an order to comply if there is a judicial finding of abuse or neglect made related to foster parent.
(k) The department shall revoke the license or permit of the foster parents without issuing an order to comply if a foster parent is convicted of a felony or other crimes pursuant to He-C 6446.29(b).
What happens if I'm involved in a special investigation alleging abuse, neglect or the maltreatment of a child in my foster home?
It's not unusual for children and adolescents coming from hard places to make false allegations against a foster parent, hoping they will just be returned home to their birth family. Unfortunately if there are allegations made against you, your foster child will be removed from your home and will not likely return, even if allegations are deemed unfounded. The biggest mistakes a foster parent often makes when they are facing allegations are talking to too many people and not hiring an attorney. Even if the allegations against you are false, you MUST take them seriously and take action immediately! Do NOT have ANY contact with your foster child involved in the allegations or his/her birth family, a fellow foster parent, your resource worker, a child's parent aide, CASA or CPSW.
The Alliance is the state chapter leader for the National Foster Parent Coalition for Allegation Reform (NFPCAR) and can provide you with some guidance. A helpful guidebook by the NFPCAR is called: Standing in the Shadows of the Law. This comprehensive resource book contains instructions for your protection and will help you and your attorney prepare your legal strategy. Foster parents also have the option of seeking counsel from a First Initial Response Team (F.I.R.S.T.) member. This team is made up of trained NH foster parents who are often officers of the NH Foster and Adoptive Parent Association (FAPA). Members of F.I.R.S.T. must maintain confidentiality according to state laws. They have knowledge of the protocols DCYF must follow and will explain the investigation process. Keep in mind, every adult in NH is a mandated reporter so if you disclose details of concern to a F.I.R.S.T. member, they are obligated to contact the DCYF Central Intake Unit. The toll free number for F.I.R.S.T. is 1-800-792-0262, however you may feel more comfortable speaking to an attorney prior to calling this hotline. For additional information, read page 9 in A Resource Guide to Assist Families with Foster Care Adoption and Permanency Supports.
Document, Document, Document
Consider getting into the habit of documenting your foster child's activities and behaviors and keeping a daily log. When a child is in your care for several months or even years, it's often challenging to recall all the details later on if you need to. Thorough documentation, receipts and a timeline of events can prove to be very useful when writing your court reports, advocating for services for your foster child or safeguarding your rights. Your timeline of events should include important dates, such as hearing dates, documenting who was present in court and brief highlights of what was discussed.
We know that CPSW's have busy caseloads and juggle multiple responsibilities. Staying organized as a foster parent helps make communication more efficient. If you need permission to go somewhere with your foster child or want to have specific concerns addressed, don't just call your CPSW, always have a paper trail. If you have the CPSW's mobile number, send a brief text such as: Hello [CPSW], Please review the email I just sent you about my safety concerns for [foster child's name]. Thank you, [foster parent]. Click HERE for some additional ideas. Click HERE to read more about documentation by leading foster care expert, Dr. John DeGarmo.
Exercising Discretion With How Much Information You Share
Unknowingly, foster parents sometimes share too much personal information with DCYF, CASA or in support groups, which can create the impression that they don't support reunification or "Just want to keep the child." Sadly, these misconceptions could be used to justify and even proliferate someone's unwarranted assumptions and your foster child could be removed from your home without warning. The Alliance strives to dispel these types of myths and to work together as a more collaborative team towards permanency. If you need assistance please read our disclaimer below and contact us directly for direction and guidance. To learn more about our vision and mission for fostering change click HERE.
Foster care is meant to be temporary and the Alliance whole-heartedly supports reunification when children can return to a safe, drug-free and healthy environment. The ultimate goal of our organization is not to prevent reunification, it is to promote safe, child and family-centered care in NH as we support one another and work with other community organizations to build resiliency and develop and implement strategies for a transformed child welfare system.