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Birth parents receiving more rights to children in foster care

Rhode Island residents who have experience dealing with the foster care system may want to follow what's going on in a number of other states that are revamping their own rules regarding foster care. In a marked change from the past, several states are now providing legal representation or mentorship for birth parents whose children are in foster care. Several states have developed programs in which the biological parents have contact with the foster parents so that they can communicate, talk to their children and honor the child rearing wishes of the parents. Birth parents are also given resources to help them navigate the family law system.

Child welfare administrators developed the program in response to the knowledge that over half of foster children will eventually return home to their natural parents. Most parents who lose custody of their child to foster care do so because of drug and alcohol issues. This approach provides a continued relationship between the parents and child and provides an opportunity to help rehabilitate the parents.

In the past, social workers in most states discouraged contact between foster and biological parents because the birth parents were viewed as dangerous. It was not taken into consideration why the children were removed. Under the new program caseworkers and judges have the authority to determine how much and what kind of contact is appropriate. Children who are removed because the birth parent was abusive will often not be allowed to maintain contact.

In states that are implementing the program foster parents are taught to speak positively about birth parents and are encouraged to do little things such as putting a picture of the birth parent in the child's room. The program also helps to reduce or eliminate the problem of older youth sneaking away from foster parents to see biological parents.

The states implementing these programs are also helping biological parents navigate the legal system and find resources that can help them in recovering from substance abuse issues or deal with issues that landed their children in foster care in the first place.

Child custody is one of the thorniest issues in family law. Whether a dispute comes up in the setting of a divorce, an unmarried couple or in a foster care setting, everyone involved must consider the best interests of the child first.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Agencies work to unite foster, biological parents," Kelli Kennedy, Oct. 25, 2012

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