Last updated: May 2012
Another option for children with an imprisoned parent is to place the child in foster care. Foster care involves putting the child in the custody of the state and Department of Children and Family Services. The child may be placed with foster parents while the biological parents are unavailable or unable to care for them.
Basics of foster care
It is best for a parent hoping to regain custody to keep the child out of the foster care system. There are several major issues with the foster care system. One is that the state has the authority to make all decisions for the child. Another is that, once the child is in the system, it is very hard to get them out. There is no guarantee a parent will be able to get back custody of their child even if they get out and have a stable life. In fact, if the parent is unable to quickly get out of custody and become stable (in, say, 15-18 months), the state is more likely to push for adoption of the child by the foster parents. In this case the incarcerated parent loses all rights to the child.
Becoming a foster parent
If the child is already living with you and is okay, the Department of Children and Family Services might not allow you to be a foster parent. They will be more likely to ask you to be a guardian of the child in some form. The good side is that the parent will be able to get their child back easier once they get out. The bad side is that the public aid award for guardians is less than it is for foster parents.
Relatives retrieving from foster care
If the child is in foster care with a stranger and there is a family member who can take in the child, they should call the foster care agency as soon as possible. They should tell the agency that they are a relative and would like to take the child. While relatives are preferred, the agency still has to approve the relative looking to take in the child. It is very important to call as soon as possible. It will be even more difficult to get the child out of foster care if they have time to adjust to new foster parents. In Chicago, you can call DCFS at 773-989-5530 with the name and date of birth of the child.
Parent’s duties when child is in foster care
While the child is in foster care there are several steps that parents can take to protect their rights when they are able to retake custody of their child. These steps can include:
The state may move to end parental rights for a jailed parent. The parent has to prove that it would be in the best interest of the child not to do so. If they lose at trial or sign a “specific consents” for a foster parent to adopt the child, they lose all rights to visit or contact the child. The only option is to register their contact information with the foster care agency or an adoption registry. This is so that they child can seek the parent out when the child becomes an adult. Some adoption registries that provide this service include:
You can also see more information at Caring for Children When a Parent Is Arrested: A Guide to Legal Options & Resources
For a list of organizations in your area that may be able to help you, enter your zip code.
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