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Episode 82: Navigating Court: Understanding Your Role as a Foster Parent

By November 18, 2019October 12th, 2023The Forgotten Podcast

“We need to go into these court cases diligently prepared to represent our children to the best of our abilities. We have to be ready to do our work.”

Our guest, Tony Whitley, is no stranger to foster care. Once a child in foster care, now a foster parent and former TFI Advocate, he’s seen the court process from many sides, and he’s not running from it. Tony helps shed new light on court and the players involved in the system. Today’s conversation will help you walk into court informed, knowing the purpose of the hearing you’re attending, and what your role is in the process. Use this as your launchpad as you navigate your way through the court system.


There is beauty in the court system. 

When a child enters foster care, they become part of the court system, whereby ultimately, a judge has the opportunity to make life-impacting decisions for that child. It’s a multi-layered process with complexities and a variety of parties involved. In that sense, there is beauty in the court system as all of these different players bring their information to a single voice of authority, the judge. We often hear of the frustrations involved with court and the broken system that seems to exist, but there is beauty in the gathering of information in one place, for one purpose. The court system is designed to help the judge make the right decision on behalf of the child. Yes, there is great sadness that a decision needs to be made in the first place, but there is beauty in a system that creates the opportunity to hear all pertinent information to a case.

Foster parents have a part to play in the court system, and it takes preparation.

Find out whether you can attend court hearings.

There are specific rules as it pertains to court. We can navigate the system, but we first must be informed. That starts with knowing your rights as a foster parent about whether you can or cannot attend court hearings. You may not be invited to court, but lawfully, you may have a right to attend. Start your search with; they report that approximately three states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands limit attendance to the parties. All other state statutes specify that foster parents may attend, but often there are amendments to these statutes, so make sure you have up to date information. You can also reach out to your state legislature to ask about your rights. Politely but firmly advocate for yourself.

If it’s permitted in your state, go to court. It’s the best place to gather information about the case; the information you’ll receive there is often the most accurate and comprehensive because it isn’t being filtered or heard second-hand.

Know what hearing you’re attending and your role in it. 

There is a specific purpose for each court hearing. The time-frame for when each hearing should occur varies by state, but generally, there are six types of hearings. 

  • Emergency Placement Hearing: In this hearing, the State defends its action of the removal of the child from their biological parent’s home. The court determines whether or not there is enough evidence for the action. 
  • Adjudicatory Trial: This is a trial to determine whether enough evidence exists to conclude that the reported abuse or neglect has occurred. 
  • Dispositional Hearing: During this hearing, the judge will determine a visitation plan for the parents or caregivers, and the case manager will work with them to draft a case plan. 
  • Review Hearings: These hearings are held at least every six months to determine the case plan progress and assess whether the child can return home safely. Biological parent(s) must successfully complete the case plan before they can regain custody of their child. 
  • Permanency Hearing: The court determines the best option for a child’s permanent placement: reunification with their biological parents, guardianship or permanent placement with a relative, or termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoption. 
  • Termination of Parental Rights Hearing: After a reasonable amount of time, parental rights may be terminated. This is based on failure to meet case plan goals. 

Court is concerned with the case plan that is set. 

While you as a foster parent might have valuable insights, thoughts, and opinions about how the child is doing in your home, the judge is only looking for information as it relates to the case plan that was set up for the biological parent(s) and/or the child. The judge is making sure the boxes are checked. The work of the foster parent is to give information so that the judge can make the best decision. While you, as a foster parent, may have deep opinions about the case, generally, they are not legally beneficial, so communicate as formally and neutrally as you can at court. Get the information you have to the judge. This means: write down everything and get it to the right people so that you don’t have to speak up in court unless necessary.  

See and pray for the people involved with court. 

Remember that the people involved with court are just that, people. Those involved with the court system are witness to some of the worst parts of our community. They need our prayers. While you, as a foster parent, are responsible for the children in your home, they are ultimately responsible for hundreds of children. In the midst of the process and our emotion about it, the weight of that pain should not be lost on us. When we pray for those involved with the court system, it changes our perspective. We can begin to see one another as on the same team rather than adversaries. We can have compassion and empathy, and it helps us to be able to communicate appropriately.



Learn more about the Child Welfare Court Process 
Research more about your State’s statutes: Child Welfare Information Gateway



Check out more episodes with the Whitley family!
Brayden and Bristol Whitley, My Parents are Foster Parents: Honest Reflections from Teens in a Fostering Family
Selena Whitley, Equipping the Church to Care for Kids in Foster Care
Find out more about The TFI Story
Order the Who Loves Series to encourage conversation about the many people in a foster child’s life—including a judge! 



We hope this episode has helped you wherever you are on your foster care journey. That’s the goal! If so, will you tell others?

Share this post or rate the podcast on Apple Podcasts (or wherever you listen) and leave us a brief review

Meet Our Guest

Tony and his wife, Selena, are parents to five amazing kids. As a family, their commitment is to glorify God by boldly serving families and vulnerable children, and with Biblical principles and Christ-like character, continue to grow in mind and body. In addition to being foster parents, Tony and Selena are former Advocates with The Forgotten Initiative in Middle Georgia.

Foster Parents, check with your agency to see if listening to this podcast will count toward your foster care training hours!

Special thanks to Resonate Recordings for their knock-it-out-of-the-park podcast production services! If you have a podcast or want to start one, reach out to our friends at Resonate!

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