Have you ever wondered what happens to a child after entering foster care? Because every child has a right to privacy, foster care is invisible by design. But that also means the system is often unaccountable and, to most people, completely unknown. When the state removes a child from their home due to alleged abuse and/or neglect, that’s just the beginning of an often long and complex process. The following is a guide intended to broadly represent a child’s journey through foster care.
STEP ONE: An Agency Investigates
A child begins their foster care journey when abuse or neglect is reported to the Children’s Division (or Department of Children and Family Services in Illinois). The Children’s Division is responsible for the administration of child welfare services. They work in partnership with families, communities, the courts, and other governmental entities toward ensuring the safety, permanency, and well-being of Missouri children. The Children’s Division then investigates the report and decides what next steps need to be taken for the child.
What circumstances are required for there to be a Child Abuse and Neglect report? – In order for the Children’s Division to accept a hotline report of abuse or neglect for investigation, the child must be under 18 years of age, the alleged perpetrator must have care, custody, or control of the child, and the allegations must meet the legal definitions of abuse or neglect. The Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline Unit screens the reported information to determine whether it meets criteria for a child abuse/neglect investigation or a family assessment response. If you know of any children experiencing abuse or neglect please report to this link – https://dss.mo.gov/cd/keeping-kids-safe/can.htm or call 1-800-392-3738.
STEP TWO: Substantiation
If the abuse or neglect is unfounded, then the child stays or returns home. If there is evidence of abuse or neglect there will be an agency recommendation. The recommendation might not be to remove the child from the home. If the child is safe they might recommend services like drug/alcohol treatment, counseling, mental health treatment, employment, or to find housing.
STEP THREE: The Preliminary Protective Hearing
This is the first court hearing in juvenile abuse and neglect cases. In some jurisdictions this may be called a “shelter care,” “detention,” “emergency removal,” or “temporary custody” hearing.
Who determines whether a child should be removed from their home? – Under Missouri law, the final decision to remove a child from a parent’s custody can only be made by a Juvenile Court judge. If there is a concern that a child may be in imminent danger, then a law enforcement officer, a physician, and a juvenile officer have the authority to place a child in temporary protective custody
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STEP FOUR: Foster Care
After the PC Hearing, the Juvenile Court judge determines whether or not the child will come into care, the child will either go into a traditional foster home, residential facility, relative home, and/or therapeutic foster home. Lots of factors come into play when deciding where a child goes.
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STEP FIVE: Adjudication and Dispositional Hearing
After thirty days, an adjudication and disposition hearing will commence. There, the court will determine if the facts in the preliminary protective hearing are true. At disposition, the court may order that the child be returned home with some conditions, placed in foster care, or award custody and guardianship to someone who is able to care for the child, preferably a relative.
Typically, the adjudication and disposition hearings are held on the same day. However, the parties can decide to split and hold an adjudication hearing first with the disposition hearing to be held at a later date.
STEP SIX: Court Review
After around 6 months there will be a court review to check on the child and their case. Here they will see if reunification to their parent(s) is making progress or if they need to change the permanency plan to another option.
About 3 in 5 children in foster care return home to their parents or other family members.
STEP SEVEN: Permanency Plan
After around 12 months there should be a permanency plan hearing. Here is where the court decides if the child will either be reunified with their parent(s), guardianship with a relative, or termination of parental rights, after which the adoption process begins.
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