There are several key players within the court system and it's important that as a foster parent, each role is understood. It's equally important to understand how a foster parent interacts with each member of the court system.
The judge on any case listens to all sides and makes a decision or ruling based on the facts of the case, within the parameter of the law and how he interprets the law. In child welfare it is the same. The judge makes decision based on what he feels is in the best interest of the child. The judge reads the reports that have been submitted to him by the Court Appointed Special Advocate, the foster parents, the workers, the Guardian ad Litem, and the birth parent's attorney. The judge also makes court orders that are to help the family and child reunify, and ultimately help the judge make a final decision after giving the family enough time, per the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, to complete the necessary court requests. The judge may court order individual therapy, family therapy, family visits, for the child to attend school regularly, or not to run from the current placement. The orders, if completed, help the judge make a final decision on what's best.
Foster Parent's Role in Working with the Judge and Court System
A foster parent is to make every effort to follow the court orders. There may be times that we might not agree with the necessity of a court order, but if we ignore and not transport the child to the necessary appointments, we are holding the court up from making a decision. How can a judge decide to send a child home with birth parents or to terminate parental rights, if the child never made it to necessary family visits or therapy appointments? The foster parents are to also submit court reports regularly for each court or case review. Foster parents may be called to testify in court, especially in cases that are headed towards termination of parental rights or in cases where a child's future placement is being disputed between different members of the birth family.
Intensive Supervision Officer(ISO)
Intensive Supervision Officer or the ISO, works with children who are juvenile offenders. Juvenile offenders are usually between the ages of 10-18 and have committed a crime. In these cases, the youth is in State's custody and the ISO works functions like a cross between a typical case manager and a probation officer. The ISO meets with the youth frequently, attends court, plans case plan meetings, and submits reports to the court.
The Foster Parent's Role in Working with the ISO and the Court System
The foster parent is to report the youth's progress in school, on the youth's community service and other court orders, behaviors, and other important information.
Court Service Officer(CSO)
The Court Service Officer works on cases involving children in the foster care system that are not juvenile offenders. The CSO functions as the judge's "right hand man" collecting submitted reports and organizing the documents and information for the judge. The CSO may even make visits to the homes of birth family to check on progress and report back to the judge on these special cases.
Court Appointed Special Advocate(CASA)
The Court Appointed Special Advocate is the only volunteer that is appointed by the court to advocate for children in court. A CASA volunteer is to speak on the behalf of an abused and/or neglected child. CASA volunteer visits the foster home, the child's school, interviews different parties in the case, and makes recommendations to the court on the child's behalf and in the child's best interest.
The Foster Parent's Role in Working with the CASA and the Court System
The foster parent is to report to the CASA the progress of the child in all areas of life - at home, in school, and within the community. It would also be helpful if the foster parent could make room in busy schedules for the CASA to come to the foster home to see how the child is coping. A foster parent is to try to partner with the CASA volunteer.
Guardian ad Litem(GAL)
The Guardian ad Litem is the child's attorney and is appointed by the court. The GAL cares about the best interest of the child and represents the child's wants and interests in court. The GAL will attend case plans or team meetings and of course, court. The GAL and CASA are the same in some States, while in other areas a case may have a court appointed GAL and court appointed CASA.
The Foster Parent's Role in Working with the GAL and the Court System
The foster parent is to submit regular court reports to the GAL on how the child is doing. This keeps the the GAL informed on the child's needs, behavior, and the impact of visits and therapy. it is important the the submitted court reports are factual and devoid of the foster parent's personal feelings and opinions. The foster parent needs to also make room for the GAL to visit the home or school as needed.
Know that each state may have different titles for each role within the court system or child welfare system.
Learn more about each area of the foster care system and how foster parents partner with the different people within each one:
Understanding Each Role within the Court System
Understanding Each Role within a Foster Care Agency
Understanding Each Role in Medical and Mental Health Services
Understanding Each Role in the School System
Children and Family within the Foster Care System