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Coming Into Care/Getting Placed

Your Rights in Placement

   
 
 

Coming Into Care/Getting Placed

Why do youth get placed in care?

There are a number of reasons why youth get placed in care. The main reasons are:

  • Their parents or guardians were being abusive (causing them physical or emotional harm) or neglectful (failing to meet their basic needs, like food, supervision, or healthcare), and the court decided that the youth were in danger and should be placed with someone who could take better care of them.

  • Their parents were struggling to take care of them, and asked for help.

  • The youth were getting into trouble, and were placed somewhere in an effort to help them change their behaviors.

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What types of placement are there?

There are a few different types of placements, and where you get placed depends on several factors: why you are in care in the first place, the purpose of having you in care, and what information you give your lawyer and the court. You may be placed in:

  • A Foster Home with Relatives: You stay with relatives who will be your foster parents. This is called "kinship foster care."

  • A Foster Home with Foster Parents: You stay in a family home setting with certified foster parents who take care of you. There may be other youth in foster care in the foster home, and the foster parents may have their own children living there, too.

  • A Diagnostic Residential Center: If youíve been abused or have emotional problems, you may go into a DRC when you enter care for a few weeks. There it is determined what is the best setting for you.

  • A Group Home: You stay in a facility for youth who need more services or supervision than a foster home could provide. A pregnant teen may be placed in a special group home or residence.

  • A Residential Treatment Facility: You stay in a group home that is more restrictive and has more mental health and other services than the standard group home.

  • A Therapeutic Foster Home: You live in a foster home that gives special care to youth with behavioral, emotional, and/or medical needs. The foster parents in a Therapeutic Foster Home get special training and support in taking care of the youth who are placed here.

If you are in care through the juvenile justice system, it's possible that you will be placed in a residential juvenile justice center or group home outside of New York City. Usually these residential programs are for groups of youth, and they may have on-site education, counseling, and job training programs.

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How long will I be in care?

If you are in foster care, the initial goal is almost always to return you to your parent. Usually, your parent should have at least one year to work with the agency to plan for your return home. But if after that time it doesn't seem like you can be returned home, the agency may ask the judge to change your goal to adoption. Your agency should prepare you to live independently, but also make sure you have an adult in your life who can be a permanent resource for you.

While you are in foster care, your case will be reviewed in court at least every six months. You have the right to come to court every time your case is heard, listen to what's going on and speak for yourself to the judge. If no one has asked you whether you want to come to court, or you don't know when your case is being heard, talk to your lawyer. If you haven't heard from your lawyer, talk to your caseworker.

This booklet summarizes foster care and your rights:
Children's Rights: Questions and Answers for Young People Going Into Foster Care.

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What if I want to live with a relative, or another person I feel comfortable with?

The agency must ask you about any relatives or family friends that you may want to live with, and try to place you with them first.

You also have the right to live in a foster home rather than a more "restrictive" setting, like a group home or other facility.

The court can order the agency to change your placement at any time. This is another reason why it's so important to go to court and tell the judge what you want.

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Can I make requests about things like religious practices, diet, etc.?

Yes. You and your parents can make these requests and your local district must do its best to honor them. If you live in a religious foster home, you don't have to participate in any of their religious activities, like going to church or praying.

Read teens' stories about maintaining their culture while in care.

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What about my personal belongings?

You have a right to have all of your personal belongings with you in foster care. Your caseworker should make sure they are brought to your foster home as soon as possible.

You have a right to privacy, and you should be provided with a safe place to store your things. No one should go through your things, but if your caregiver has reasonable cause to believe that something in your possession is dangerous, stolen, illegal, or could in any way be harmful to you or to someone else, they are required to call your caseworker or report it to your agency. Then it's possible that your property will be searched. "Reasonable cause to believe" means that your caregiver has some kind of evidence—they can't just search your things because they have a "hunch" or a "feeling" that something is wrong.

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Will I have to switch schools?

The state is supposed to do everything possible to make sure you stay in the same community when you go into foster care, if that's what you want. That should mean that you stay at the same school. If you do have to change schools, the state must enroll you immediately and make sure your records get transferred quickly.

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What if I already have a child when I come into care, or I get pregnant while I'm in care?

If you already have a child when you go into care, your child may be able to come with you to your placement, or may be put in a separate placement. You may also be able to leave your child in the care of a relative while you are in foster care. You should talk with your caseworker about what you want and what kind of support you need.

If you get pregnant while you're in care, know that you have options, and it is your decision whether you want to have an abortion, have the baby and raise it yourself, or have the baby and give it up for adoption. Click here for more information making that choice.
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What can I do to help myself?

There's a lot you can do to help yourself, and reading this website is a great start! One of the most important things you can do is stay informed: know your rights, know your court dates and Permanency Hearing dates, and know how to contact the people on your team.
It's also important to find effective ways to advocate for yourself. It's not enough just to want something: you have to communicate what you want to your caseworker, and sometimes you have to do it more than once. Unfortunately, caseworkers are often overworked and may not always remember what you want or make your requests a priority, so when you want something, be prepared to ask again and again. You should also figure out how to pick your battles: know the difference between when it's OK to let something go, and when you just can't take "no" for an answer.

Document everything as much as possible—it can be as simple as keeping a list of all the phone calls you make to people on your team, with the date you spoke to them or left a message, and a sentence or two about what you talked about.

Don't shut down. Many staff may disappoint you and not seem to care, but you may be lucky and find one who goes the extra mile for you. To connect with a staff member, though, you must be open and communicate that you would like his or her help. Read Marlo's story for an example of a staff member who changed the life of one of her students. They're out there.

Read a Q&A from Foster Club about advocating for yourself within the system.



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Your Rights in Placement


The Youth Justice Board is a team of NYC teenagers who spend a year studying a particular issue and then write a report about it. In 2008-2009 they studied family court permanency planning and came up with a Permanency Achievement Kit (PAK). To read more about the Youth Justice Board and its recommendations for change, visit: www.courtsandcommunity.org/youthjusticeboard.

Am I allowed to see my family members?

Absolutely! You have the right to see or talk to family and friends while you are in foster care.

Your agency should make every effort to place you in the same home as your siblings. If they can't, you have a right to see your siblings at least every two weeks.

Read what youth have to say about being separated from their siblings while in the foster care system.

You're also supposed to see your parent every two weeks unless the state proves to the judge that there's a good reason not to—for instance, if you're placed far from your parent's home, your parent is in jail, or your parent is accused of severe abuse. You have a right to know if the state is trying to prove this, and to tell your lawyer and the judge if you disagree. If you're not seeing your parent regularly, ask your caseworker, lawyer, and the judge to explain why. If you are going home soon, you may have more frequent visits with your parents.

Your caseworker is required to work out a visiting plan for you and your biological parents, and to put it in writing and share it with you, your caregiver, and your parents. Your caregiver and caseworker aren't allowed to take away your family visits as a way of punishing you.

If your parent or sibling visits happen at a child welfare agency and you would prefer a nicer location, find out why and ask if the visits can be somewhere else, like in your foster home, or in a restaurant or park. You can also bring this up in court.

Read a Q&A from Foster Club about biological families in the foster care system.

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What if I don't want to see my parent?

If you do not want to see your parent, you should tell your lawyer immediately and come to court to explain your feelings to the judge. Most of the time, your parent does have a right to see you, but you and your lawyer can argue against this. If you're concerned about visiting a parent and you haven't been able to speak to your lawyer, call your caseworker or your caseworker's supervisor right away.

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What are the rules about seeing friends and hanging out?

Because it's your caregiver's job to keep you safe, they may set up rules about when and where you can go to hang out, and who you can go with. They'll need to know where you are all the time, and they may want to meet your friends (or your friends' parents, if you'll be visiting their homes). If you want to sleep over somewhere, have friends visit you, or get involved with afterschool activities, you'll need to check with your caregiver first.

Additionally, there are some things that you may need permission from your caseworker for. If you are living in a new neighborhood or town, you may need to check with your caseworker about visiting your old neighborhood and seeing old friends. If you disagree with your caseworker's decision, you have the right to talk to their supervisor about it.

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What are the things a foster home must provide for you?

Your foster home must provide for all of your basic needs: shelter, food and clothing. You shouldn't be paying for these things with your own money. If you're disabled, your foster home must meet those needs, too. Here are some more details about things you should get while you're in care:

  • Your own space: Wherever you are living, you must be provided with a place to sleep and store your things that is just for you. You may have to share a room, but you should always have your own bed.

  • Clothing: You have the right to have clothes that are appropriate for the weather (like a heavy coat in winter), and that are suitable for school or work, hanging out, and dressing up. You may receive a clothing allowance from your agency, or your foster parent may be in charge of paying for your clothing—check with your caseworker about what the rule is in your area. You have the right to help shop for and pick out your own clothes.

  • Your safety: You have the right to be physically safe at all times. If you ever feel that you are unsafe or are being mistreated, tell your caseworker immediately. If you can't get in touch with your caseworker right away and the situation is urgent, you can call the Child Abuse Hotline at 800-342-3720.
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What rules do I have to follow in my placement?

Rules will vary depending on who your caregiver is and where you're living, so it's important to keep in mind that something that was OK in one placement may be viewed differently in another. Try to talk to your foster parent or group home staff early on about things like using the phone or Internet, watching TV, following a curfew, and doing chores.

If you feel that you are being unfairly denied privileges, or that you are being punished unfairly for not following rules, talk to your caseworker. They may find that your foster parent is being reasonable, or they may see a problem and talk to your foster parent about it, or in some cases change your placement. While a reasonable punishment might involve cutting back how much TV you're allowed to watch or giving you an earlier curfew, certain kinds of punishment are never allowed. Foster parents and residential staff are never allowed to hit you or refuse to feed you.

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Can I have a job and be in charge of my own money?

You can have a job, as long as you follow state laws regarding how many hours per week your may work (this will depend on how old you are). Click here to jump to the Jobs section on this website, which has lots of information about getting working papers and tips on how to find a job.

You're allowed to spend your money as you see fit—this could be money from a job, an allowance from the agency, etc. You can also have a savings account in your name only, though some banks may require a cosigner.

If you find yourself spending your own money on school-related expenses, like on fees or equipment for clubs or sports teams, talk to your caseworker: the agency may be able to cover some of these costs.

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What are my rights if I identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) and I am in care?

No matter what your sexual orientation and gender identity, you have the right to be safe emotionally and physically at school and where you live. You have the right to decide who you share personal information with, and this includes information about your sexual identity and gender identity. Whether you are "out" (open about your sexuality or gender identity) or not, it is never OK for agency staff, foster parents, or other foster youth to harass you or make fun of you for who you are or how you present yourself. You may want to be "out" to some people and not others, depending on who you feel comfortable with and what makes you feel supported, and this is your choice.

If you feel you are being harassed or discriminated against, talk to your caseworker. If your caseworker can't or won't help you, talk to their supervisor, your lawyer, or another trusted adult. You deserve to be safe and well cared-for, and this includes not having to live or go to school in an environment where you are made fun of or feel unsafe physically or emotionally.

Click here to jump to information on this site about resources for LGBTQ youth.

Read teens' stories about their experiences as LGBTQ youth in care.

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What if my agency isn't following these rules?

Your caseworker should be in close contact with you to see how you're doing. Call your caseworker or her supervisor any time you need something or have questions.

You should also hear from your lawyer, and you can and should feel free to call your lawyer any time, from anywhere. This is especially important if you've spoken to your caseworker about a concern, and she hasn't done anything about it.

Your lawyer is the only person whose job is to advocate for you. Your lawyer has to ask you what you need and want and do everything possible to help you get those things. This includes speaking with or for you in court, calling your caseworker, speaking to your foster family and school and anything else you want your lawyer to do.

Don't be discouraged if your lawyer doesn't pick up the phone. Lawyers are in and out of court all day and rarely at their desks. It's extremely important that you leave a message on your lawyer's voicemail with your full name and telephone number.

If your lawyer hasn't returned your messages, call the main phone number of her office and ask to speak to a supervisor. You should also come to your next court date and discuss this with your lawyer in person. If your caseworker or lawyer isn't responding to you, tell this to the judge the next time you are in court.

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What about when I leave care? What does my agency need to do for me?

Before you leave care at age 21, your agency must help you figure out who can be a "permanency resource" for you—one or more adults who you can depend on for support, advice, and guidance as you transition out of foster care. Your caseworker should also be helping you with practical stuff, like telling you how to get your case records (you have a right to access them if you're 18 or older and have been discharged from the system), giving you (or helping you get) copies of important documents like your birth certificate, helping you find a place to live that's not a shelter or single room occupancy hotel, and helping you make plans for reaching your educational and career goals.

Here are several forms that can help with transition planning:

Casey Life Skills Guidebook
Foster Club's Transition Toolkit
Orienting Older Youth With Foster Club’s Transition Toolkit

Your agency is required to start talking with you about your transition plan at least 6 months before you plan to leave care, and to help you have a transition plan in place at least 90 days before you leave care. If you feel that your caseworker is not working on a transition plan with you, make sure to bring it up with him or her, and his or her supervisor if necessary.

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