Advice for Across State Lines Foster Care
My husband and I are considering becoming foster parents for a family member's child who lives in a different state. I have just started my research but was wondering if anyone has been through this process?
In most states, you would need to be close enough to do weekly visitations between the child and parents. Most states wouldn't allow trans-state fostering. ICPC is involved and that would be a mess.
lovemy6, your comment is somewhat accurate as far as it goes but not actually true for many cases and I am afraid it may discourage the poster from taking the immediate actions that need to happen NOW to ensure that this child's right to family is respected.

We fostered and later adopted a relative from out of state. It can certainly be done. In all cases, relatives MUST STEP UP IMMEDIATELY, no matter what, or risk later losing the child to a closed adoption.

rilke05, please take all this as a big suggestion based on our personal experience and that of many others on these forums--

1. If the child is already in foster care, you need to IMMEDIATELY call the agency that has custody and SAY that you are willing and able to care for the child and want to do so AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Follow up in writing by e-mail to the cw and agency director (usually named on the agency website although the cws won't be) even using the general agency e-mail address if no other is available and also by certified mail (return receipt).

Tell the cw that you want her to start an ICPC for relative placement immediately so that everything can be approved and ready if and when the agency and/or court approve the move. ICPCs can take many months and the child cannot be moved for fostering or adoption until it is approved all the way through a long chain of hands and back again.

Once approved, an ICPC remains open and "good" for up to a year and renewal is a streamlined process. The agency is not committed to using it and you are not committed to accepting the child later if you decide you can't. There is no downside to starting it as soon as possible. Not starting it risks the child disappearing into a closed adoption, lingering too long and attaching outside the family even if eventually placed with family, etc.

Finally, ask her what her state's requirements are for relative placement for kinship care and whether the requirements are different for relative fostering. Let her know that you intend to get licensed so that you can provide the best home possible for the child.

Put all that and your understanding of her agreements and answers from your conversation into your e-mail and letter. Bullet lists are fine, just cover the points, the main one being that you are "willing and able to provide" safe care for your relative. If you know or think there is a good chance that you would be "willing and able" to adopt her if the need arose, state that, too; it helps.

2. Start the licensing process in your state immediately even if the sending state does not require you to be licensed.

First, this is the best way to get the homestudy and/or criminal checks that the sending state will surely require underway weeks or months ahead of the time when the ICPC request may or may not show up at your agency. That is, your agency won't start approving you for placement for the ICPC until the ICPC lands on someone's desk; it will, however, start that process if you are going through the licensing process.

Second, licensing classes will give you a good overview of both the foster care process (your responsibilities, case plans, hearings, deadlines, TPRs, etc.) as well as parenting to the special needs of foster children.

Third, the experience will put you on positive footing with your own agency and give you contacts that may provide invaluable support down the line. While your licensing worker will not be your cw when the child comes, he/she can be a great resource for information and help and will also smooth the way for you with the cws.

Fourth, depending on the state, the child may be entitled to certain supports and services while in foster care that may be lost if placed in simple kinship care. That is, you may need to be licensed for the child to receive subsidy, medical care, mental health care, and other vital services.

3. Do all this even if the cw tells you the goal is reunification with the parents. This child's life doesn't stop just because the parents are working a case plan. Things need to be made ready now for "in case" later. Visitation may be an issue, it may not be, it may cease to be at any time--when that happens, you want to be ready. It is also possible that you may not actually be that far away or that the case is already on a concurrent or TPR track--in which case, visitation would be much less of a priority.

Relatives who wait are often too late--by the time they act, go through the process, get an approved ICPC, etc., the child may have attached to a different family and be on track for a closed adoption.

4. Ask the cw about the child's well being, build your relationship with the child. Ask about the child, not the parents. Offer to be a resource for medical history, etc. Find out if you can visit the child, send gifts and cards, talk to the fps or the child, etc. If you already have a relationship with the child, start building on it as you are allowed to; if you don't, start creating it. Inquire regularly, once per week or every other week. If you can communicate with the fps, do so. Build a positive relationship with them, try to partner with them with the child's interest always in front of both of you. Listen to them whether or not you agree with them. They may be key players in the drama, they may not be. Either way, a lot that happens in a foster child's worldview is not what you might expect--things are different here for them and for you, the fps can give you a window on that.

5. Whatever you do, DO NOT depend on your adult relative for information or guidance on whether or not to proceed. First they often really don't know, don't understand, or don't have accurate, unbiased information. They may not understand that if you don't act now, that child could easily be lost to the family FOREVER. They may resent what they perceive as your "intrusion" into "their business" without regard for the child's need for his/her family. They are embarrassed, ashamed, in denial, thinking of themselves, not thinking logically, etc. Second you don't want to appear to be in league with them as far as social services is concerned.

6. Be neutral when talking with social services and the parents. Their case is between them, social services, and the court. You are there for the child. Take exactly the same line in all communications with the relative--don't give them any ammunition for discrediting you now or later as in their distress they often strike out even at loved ones. If you have firsthand factual information that is relevant, by all means report it, but keep opinions--positive and negative--out of it. You need social services to trust that you have the child's best interest at heart, not the parents' agenda or an agenda of your own against the parents.

The MAJOR point is that you need to be seen and heard NOW, not later, that you need to set the wheels in motion NOW to be ready months later when placement might happen. Nothing is final until it is final, and if you decide you can't take placement, you can make that change later. But if you don't act now and you decide later that you want placement, it could be far too late and the child will lose your family.

7. Be aware that the other state may ask you to take guardianship and/or legal custody so that they can close their foster care case. Understand that if you do that, it simply puts you in the place of the state, defending to a court why the parents should not have the child returned. That is, it won't close out the parents' custody issue--they will still have their parental rights and still be able to challenge you for return of the child and many other things in court. Taking guardianship and/or legal custody may also cut the child off from medical care and other needed services that would otherwise be provided under the foster care and adoption out of foster care system. If this is not only suggested but you feel pressure to agree, talk to the child's GAL attorney and an attorney of your own in the sending state and one in your state before signing anything. You can come back here for advice on how to do that if the need arises.

That is part of the reason for requesting an ICPC for the fairly vague and neutral purpose of relative placement. This is not an argument you want to have before placement. The RP purpose statement defers the issue of guardianship/custody vs. adoption to later, when the child is already placed and residing with you in a state that has the power to concur or not in any closing of the case other than RU or adoption. Depending upon where the child is from, where you live, and the strength of your relationship with your agency, that timing can make a powerful difference.

The whole thing is something of a chess game. You need to look at three or four possible moves on both sides ahead of time.

8. As for actually fostering a relative's child and/or adopting the child--wow, that is a whole other subject, and a thorny one at that. I would suggest first getting the wheels in motion for placement, then educating yourself on the laws and practices of both states, then thinking about what life would need to be like if placement happened and whether you are up to following all the rules and putting the child's interest in safety before everything else. Practical matters first, though; believe me, you will have plenty of time to learn and ponder before placement happens!

I hope that this was not too long or too detailed or too bossy Smile. As a relative in this position, it is something of a mission for me to try to help others through it. Good luck and please come back and let us know how things are going!
Hadley - what a great post! I know that several relatives came forward late in the case of our daughter, in which case we had already bonded with her from birth and TPR had already occurred. The CW and GAL definitely took that timing into consideration. Everybody was asking - "why didn't they come forward sooner?" and "are they just going to provide BMom access to the child and disappear?". OP - By making the child your clear emphasis right away, you'd be answering those questions. Good luck to you!
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