Foster Parent Rights in Florida
1. Do foster parents in Florida have a right to contest removal of foster children from their home?
Yes, but only under the specific and quite limited circumstances outlined in ?39.812(4), Fla. Stat. Among the statutory prerequisites are: foster parent currently be licensed; foster parent has applied to adopt the child; child has resided in foster home at least six (6) months; child is permanently committed to the State of Florida, Department of Children and Families (read TPR judgment entered); and the Dept. has not granted the foster parent's application to adopt. If all these scenarios are present, then the Dept. may not remove the child from said foster home unless the Juvenile Court has entered a prior order so authorizing (for which the foster parent as a "participant" absolutely is entitled to prior notice). The only exceptions per statute are: the foster parent agrees to the removal; there is probable cause for the Dept. to believe that the said child is at imminent risk of abuse or neglect; or thirty (30) days has passed after written notice to the foster parent that the adoption application has been denied, and there has been no formal challenge to the decision denying said adoption application filed.
2. How long must the child be in the foster home to confer such rights?
At least six (6) months per 39.812(4), Fla. Stat.
3. Do foster parents have "party" status in litigation?
No, per definition under Fla. law, 39.01, foster parents are "participants" only, which entitles the foster parents to notice, but is distinct from being a "party" also defined in ?39.01, Fla. Stat.
4. Can foster parents conduct discovery?
Not unless first given "party" status by the juvenile court.
5. Can foster parents access social service records?
As concerns the foster child's health/medical/educational records, yes, but only records of that nature.
6. Can a foster parent initiate a termination of parental rights action against birth parents?
Yes, in that ?39.802(1), Fla. Stat. specifically allows a TPR to be filed not just by the State of Florida, Dept. of Children and Families or by the Guardian ad Litem, but also by "any other person who has knowledge of the facts alleged or is informed of them and believes that they are true." In reality, rarely does this take place, as foster parents are asked to sign a pledge that they will take no action toward adoption.
7. Are there any prerequisites to a foster parent initiating a TPR action?
No, only those normally otherwise outlined in statute, as with expiration of case plan, normally no longer than 12 months after initial shelter, ?39.6011, Fla. Stat., unless there is a material breach, which permits TPR to be filed even before expiration of the case plan.