Family Court Introduction
What Happens When My Case Enters Family Court?
Can I Be Present in the Courtroom? Who Decides?
Who Are All Those People in the Courtroom?
Which Family Court Do I Go To?
What Does My Lawyer Do?
How To Find Your Lawyer
More Legal Help For Youth 24 and Under
Your Legal Rights in Foster Care

What Can I Do if My Child Has Been Placed in Foster Care?
What If I’ve Aged Out but Still Need Legal Help?
Dealing With the Police: Your Rights, and How to Stay Safe
Answers to Your Legal Questions

Natasha SantosEvery child who is placed in foster care has a case that goes to family court. It is the place where our fate is decided—or postponed—dozens of times. There is a family court for every borough in the city, and you probably know at least one intimately.

So many of us are so fed up with strangers deciding what our lives will be that we don’t even try to get involved. But showing up for court dates and being familiar with your lawyer (whoever it is this month) is essential to getting the help and services you need.

It’s especially important to speak to your lawyer and caseworkers about the services you're supposed to be receiving when you leave care. Too often we hear stories about youth being discharged into homelessness or left to fend for themselves, drawing on limited resources to help carve out a new life.

There are, of course, laws and policies that have to be followed when a youth is aging out of care. It is illegal to discharge a youth into a shelter or send them off with nothing more than a goodbye and a stipend. That’s why it’s important to stay involved with your case, and speak to your lawyer in-depth about what is going to happen to you once you leave care. To find out more about your rights before you age out, click here.

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What Happens When My Case Enters Family Court?

First, a family court judge has to agree that you should be placed in foster care. If it’s decided that you will remain in foster care for now, the next step is to create a plan to find a permanent living situation for when you leave care. This is called permanency planning. Your plan might be to move back in with your birth parent/s, to be adopted or permanently placed with a relative or other guardian, or to prepare to transition out and live on your own. You will have a permanency hearing in family court roughly every six months, so the judge can check up on how your plan is going. Make sure to ask your lawyer when your next hearing is, and try to attend if possible.

For more information on the permanency process and your rights, check out the booklet "It's Your Life," written by teens at the Youth Justice Board. It includes information on your rights in court, how to work with people in court, and how to communicate what you want.

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Can I Be Present in the Courtroom? Who Decides?

There's no law that says a child can't be present in the courtroom. But you're not required to be there unless you're accused of juvenile delinquency. In foster care cases, where it's the parent who's being accused of something, the young person is often not invited in.

I wanted to know why that is, since what's decided in court affects our lives in so many ways. So I spoke to some lawyers at Manhattan Family Court. They offered three main reasons why judges and lawyers often assume it's best to keep us out.

1. They said a big reason is that what goes on in court may be too much for us to bear. For example,if a father is charged with sexually abusing his child, but in court he condemns that child as a liar, that could be very painful to hear. It might make us cry or scream in court. It might depress us for a long time. So for our sakes, they decide it's best to keep us out.

2. Our lawyers represent our interests and speak for us, so we don't need to be in court ourselves. Part of the job of our lawyers (or of the social workers or volunteers helping them) is to talk to us to make sure they understand what we want and we understand the consequences of our choices.

Once they've done that, they believe they're better able to convince the judge to get us what we want than we would be, because they understand the law.

3. A third reason is that in cases of abuse or neglect, the parent/guardian, who's the one on trial, has some rights to privacy. Parents might not want their children to know things about their lives that they might be required to say in court, so they can request that the judge keep us from being there.

Read Ijeoma’s story about being kept out of court.  

After thinking through all their reasons, though, I'm still not convinced that kids shouldn't be in court. I believe that our lawyers and the judges should always ask us if we want to be there, and give us the opportunity to say yes or no, rather than assuming that we don't.

For me, not being allowed in court was absolutely unhealthy, unhelpful and painful. I imagine that's true for some other young people as well. Too often and in too many ways, the doors are shut to our pain and anger. We are silenced, by our families and by the system, and labeled as children who know nothing.

Even if they mean well, the courts should not make us feel that they're doing the same. If we choose, we should have the right to speak from our hearts and face those who have hurt us.

The lawyers I spoke with told me that, if we do want to be in court, we should speak up. Then it will be up to the judge to decide.

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Which Family Court Do I Go To?

What should you wear to court? Read Angel’s advice.


There is a court for every borough. The court you go to is determined by the borough your parent/s lived in when you were taken into care.

900 Sheridan Ave.
Bronx, NY 10451

330 Jay St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201

60 Lafayette St.
New York, NY 10013

151-20 Jamaica Ave.
Jamaica, NY 11432

100 Richmond Terrace
Staten Island, NY 10301

You can also go to for directions and building directories.

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What Does My Lawyer Do?

If you’re in foster care, you have a lawyer whose job is to represent you in court. In New York, your lawyer is called the "attorney for the child," although you may know them by the term law guardian. He or she has to protect your legal interests and advocate for what you want (as long as you’re capable of making that decision).

Your lawyer should explain his or her role and the court proceedings to you, tell you what your rights are and find out what you want. Your lawyer is required to express your wishes to the court.

He or she should investigate placement options for you, which includes doing work like reviewing your case file, getting your school and medical records, and interviewing people who know you. Then your lawyer will request an appropriate placement and whatever services you need from the court.

Remember, this is your lawyer, not the lawyer for your parents, your agency or anyone else. Your lawyer should not tell anyone what you talk about, unless you are in danger. If you feel that your lawyer is not listening, not explaining things in a way that you can understand, or violating confidentiality, speak up! Tell them how you feel and see if the problem can be fixed.

If you still feel that he or she is not fighting for you (not returning your phone calls or not telling the judge what you want), then you should ask to speak to the judge at your next court appearance. If you need to, you can ask the judge for a new attorney. But judges don’t give kids new lawyers very often, so be prepared to give specific reasons why you are not satisfied with the job your lawyer is doing. Before going to the judge, you might even want to write down your complaints.

Theresa Hughes, Esq., is the former director of the Child Advocacy Clinic at St. John’s University School of Law.

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How to Find Your Lawyer

If you don’t know who your attorney is, call these organizations. They should be able to find the name and phone number of the lawyer who is assigned to you.

Lawyers for Children:
1-800-244-2540 or 212-966-6420

Legal Aid:
(Call the borough that you and your parents were living in when you were first placed in foster care.)
Bronx: 718-579-7900
Brooklyn: 718-237-3100
Manhattan: 212-312-2260
Queens: 718-298-8900
Staten Island: 718-422-5333

If you’re trying to call your lawyer and they don’t answer, don’t give up. Attorneys for children in foster care are often in court, and because they have so many cases, they might not return your phone call right away. Keep calling, and leave a message with your full name and phone number every time you call.

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Your Legal Rights in Foster Care

You have the right to be heard. Talk to your ACS caseworker, your foster care agency caseworker, and your lawyer. Make sure you let them know how you feel and make sure they answer your questions. It is their job to listen to you.

You have a right to your own lawyer and the right to talk to that lawyer in private. Your lawyer's job is to listen to you and to tell the judge what you think, feel, and want. Your lawyer can explain to you why you have been removed from your home and why a case has been filed in Family Court.

You have a right to be part of the planning process for you and your family, and to attend meetings about this. These meetings are called Family Team Conferences, and are held about once every six months. They are also held if there's a change in your case, like being moved to a different foster home. You have a right to express your wishes. You have a right to speak to your lawyer outside the meetings and to have an adult come to the meetings with you to help you feel more comfortable and provide information and support.

You have the right to ask your lawyer and caseworkers if you might be able to be cared for by relatives or friends in their homes.

You have a right to be well cared-for in foster care, to get proper food and clothing, to go to school, and to get medical care.

You have the right to be placed with your siblings whenever possible, as long as it is safe and in both of your best interests for you to be together. If you have a child, you have the right to be placed with your child as long as you are able to protect and care for him or her.

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More Legal Help For Youth 24 and Under


Youth Represent

346 Broadway
New York, NY 10013
Youth Represent is a holistic youth defense and advocacy non-profit organization. Their lawyers provide criminal and civil legal representation to youth 24 and under who are involved in the criminal justice system or who are experiencing legal problems because of past involvement in the criminal justice system. They can also help you with education, housing, and employment.

What Can I Do if My Child Has Been Placed in Foster Care?

If you are a parent and your child has been taken into care, you should first speak with your attorney and/or caseworker. They should be able to advise you on your next step. If you are no longer in care yourself, of if you just need more advice, these resources can be of help:

Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP)
80 E. 110th Street, #1E 
New York, NY 10029 
Offers support groups for parents with children in foster care. On their website, you can also download a parent “survival guide” that explains your rights and how to navigate the system.

Rise Magazine
Rise magazine publishes stories by parents about their experiences with the child welfare system, and provides information on your rights and how to get the services you need.

Center for Family Representation
40 Worth Street, Suite 605
New York, NY 10013
(212) 691-0950
Provides free legal services for parents in crisis.

Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT)
32 Court Street, Suite 1208 
Brooklyn, NY 11201  
LIFT provides free family law and Family Court information and guidance, and operates sites in the Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island Family Courthouses (find locations here:

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What if I've Aged Out of Care But Still Need Legal Help?

If you’re about to age out and aren’t ready (for instance, if your agency hasn’t found housing for you that you can afford), talk to your lawyer. He or she can ask the judge to extend your placement in foster care until you get everything you need.

If you have already aged out, call your former agency and ask if they can refer you to services in your community. There are legal organizations around the city that can help you with things like housing and benefits, for free. Here are a few:
Legal Aid Society
199 Water Street
New York, NY 10038
They have an office in every borough offering legal help for low-income individuals and families. In addition to help with common issues like benefits and housing, they have special projects dealing with immigration, prisoners’ rights and homeless rights, among other issues. 

Law Help New York
Provides a list of free legal resources in your area according to the type of services you need.

New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG)
For legal assistance, call 212-613-5000.
Legal help with benefits like public assistance, food stamps, Medicaid and SSI.

Legal Services for New York City
40 Worth Street, Suite 606
New York, NY 10013
Legal help in many areas including housing, disability, government benefits, bankruptcy, citizenship and family law.

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Dealing With the Police: Your Rights, and How to Stay Safe

Read Allen's story about talking to the cops.  

Click here for a helpful guide from the New York Civil Liberties Union on what to do if you get stopped by the police.

Click here for a guide on dealing with school safety officers.

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Answer Your Legal Questions

Click here for answers to your legal questions.

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