A child taken from the family and placed in foster care is one of the most traumatic experiences for children and their parents. Reunification is often the parents' first goal after losing custody, and it is often in everyone's interest to return the children to the family.
Unfortunately, the state can make mistakes, act on incorrect information, or another parent may make false claims of abuse or neglect that can result in the child being placed in foster care. If your child is in the Missouri foster care system, in state custody, or in a residential facility, talk to your Missouri family law attorney about how to get your child out of foster care.
Grounds for Temporary State Custody
When a child is reportedly abused, neglected, or the parents are unable to care for the child, the Missouri Children's Division may step in to take temporary custody of the child. Parental custody can be taken away where there are allegations that the parents or guardians neglect or refuse to provide proper support, education, and care necessary for the child's well-being.
Placement after losing temporary custody generally involves one of the following options:
- Non-custodial parental care
- Relative care
- Kinship care
- Foster care
- Medical foster care
- Elevated needs foster care
- Residential care
Foster Care and Reunification in Missouri
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about three in five foster care children are returned home to their family. There are generally a number of steps to getting a child out of temporary or long-term foster care, which begins with a dependency hearing.
A Rule 124 dependency hearing will determine whether the child should be returned to the parents, or whether parental rights should be terminated. Following the dependency hearing, if the child remains in state custody, an adjudication hearing will be held within 60 days to determine the next step, followed by a dispositional hearing, dispositional reviews, and finally, a permanency hearing if the child is still in foster care.
A Family Support Team (FST), which is made up of a case manager, care provider, and the court, is supposed to work with the family to ensure a safe environment for the child to be able to return home. Foster care should be a temporary alternative and as soon as any potential issues are resolved, a child should be able to be reunited with family.
FST meetings will begin within a few days after initially losing the care of your child, to develop a treatment plan. The plan is supposed to address the concerns behind losing custody. Further FST meetings will occur about every 30 days after your child goes into foster care until 90 days have passed, then about every six months. The meetings are supposed to review the treatment plan, track progress, and address any remaining issues.
The primary goal is reunification provided it is in the best interests of the child. If the juvenile court does not return care to the parents, other resolutions include guardianship or placement with a relative or kinship care provider.
Adoption is another permanent plan that requires termination of parental rights. Once a parent's parental rights have been terminated, the parent no longer has a legal relationship or legal rights regarding the child. After losing parental rights, the parent generally cannot reinstate parental rights.
Alternatives to Foster Care
Even if the state is not ready to return your children to your custody, living in a residential facility or with a foster family may not be the best option. The family may have relatives who will be able to care for the child better than state institutions. Generally, the state and family judges will also prefer to place the child with family but the family may not have been available at the time the children were taken from the parents.
Parents may be able to petition the court to remove the child from state custody to another guardian, such as aunts and uncles, or grandparents.
Parents Rights in Foster Care
As the child's parent, you have the right to be consulted on all decisions involving your child, including medical and religious decisions. You have a right to receive legal notice in court actions involving your child. You also have the right to be represented by an attorney in foster care proceedings. Make sure you understand your rights and have an advocate on your side to help you through this difficult time.
Talk to an Experienced Missouri Family Law Attorney
Losing custody is a traumatic experience. Act quickly to make sure you can reunify with your child as soon as possible. Cass County family lawyers at Higher Level Legal have years of experience in foster care cases and dependency hearings, helping families reunite. Contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm today at (816) 331-9968 for a consultation.