Free Legal Help for Current and Former Foster Youth: 1-877-313-3688

Being in Foster Care

contents

Rights to Obtain Your CPS Records
Rights to your Permanency Planning Meeting
Rights to Caseworker, Court Appointed Special Advocate, Attorney Ad Litem, and Probation Officer
Right to Your Court Hearings
Health Care Decisions
Meningitis Vaccination
Visiting Your Brothers and Sisters
Open a Bank Account and Save Money
Participation in the Adult Living (PAL) Program

 

Your Rights in Foster Care

Before talking about your exit from foster care, we want to remind you of the rights that you have as long as you
are in foster care. The most basic rights protect your general well-being, like the rights to:

  • Live in a safe, comfortable and healthy home where you
    are treated with respect, with your own place to store your things and where you receive healthy food, adequate clothing, and appropriate personal hygiene products;
  • Be free from physical punishment;
  • Be free from physical, sexual, emotional and all other abuse;
  • Attend religious services and activities of your choice;
  • Receive adequate medical, dental, vision and mental health care, express your opinion about your medical care, and, once you turn 16, to make some decisions about your healthcare;
  • Make and receive confidential and uncensored telephone calls and send and receive confidential, unopened and uncensored mail, unless a judge or your caseworker does not allow this; and
  • Get to do the activities like other kids your age get to
    do- such as sports, clubs at school and outings with friends.

You can find a list of your rights while in foster care online. We also discuss some other rights below.

If any of your rights are being violated, you may talk to your caseworker, a teacher or another adult that you trust. If you still feel that any of your rights have been violated or ignored after you have talked with one of those people, you may contact the Texas Foster Care Ombudsman. There are several ways you can reach them: 1) by calling them at (844)286-0769 (8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday), 2) by emailing them at fco@hhsc.state.tx.us, 3) by filling out an online form at www.hhsc.state.tx.us/ombudsman/foster-care-ombudsman.shtml, 4) by mailing them a letter to: Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Foster Care Ombudsman, MC H-700, PO Box 13247, Austin, Texas 78711-3247, or 5) by faxing them a letter to (888)780-8099. Remember to include your full name, date of birth and how they can contact you back. If you do not hear back from them within a week, contact them again. This office is separate from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (CPS) and you are protected if you file a complaint. If you contact the Ombudsman Office before they are officially open (which  should be May 2016), you should contact the DFPS Office of Consumer Affairs to file your complaint at (800)720-7777. If you or someone you know is being abused, you can call 911 in an emergency. To report abuse or neglect that is not an emergency, you can call (800)252-5400 or make a report online at www.txabusehotline.org. The Texas Foster Youth Justice Project is available to provide free and confidential legal services. You can call us at (877)313-3688, or e-mail us at info@texasfosteryouth.org.

Rights to Obtain Your CPS Records

When you are placed in foster care, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) keeps a case record. This includes all documents and computer records that DFPS has about you and your placement in foster care. It also includes information about any reports that you have been abused or neglected.

Once you are 18 years old, you can request a copy of your CPS records from DFPS. While you can do this on your own, many former foster youth report that they have difficulties getting their records, so it is better to seek the free assistance of the Texas Foster Youth Justice Project at (877)313-3688. If you want to do it on your own you need to fill out a Form 4885-G, Request for Case Records, along with other information about obtaining the records. You should then mail it to Department of Family and Protective Services, Attn: RMG (Y-937), P.O. Box 149030, Austin, Texas, 78714-9030. DFPS has the right to black-out certain information which is considered confidential by state law. It can take a long time, even years, and you need to send in updates of your address if you move. Once the records are ready, DFPS sends them on a CD that you can read on a computer with Adobe Acrobat.

DFPS records are confidential—this means that they are private. In most cases only DFPS staff, your attorney and CASA may look at your DFPS records unless a court orders that someone else can see them. For example, medical information may be shared with your doctor. Your caseworker might provide some information to your foster parent, your biological parent, and school staff. What is provided should be only what is necessary for your care and education. If someone is considering adopting you, as part of the process after they know you well, they will be given a copy of your records. Anyone who looks at any part of your DFPS records must keep it confidential. You may talk to your caseworker about what personal information is being shared with other people.

Rights to your Permanency Planning Meeting

Your caseworker will develop a service plan for you and should talk to you about what should be in it. Your foster parent, caregiver, attorney, CASA, and relatives should be talked to as well. If you are 14 years old or older, you should be able to invite two other adults to help. This plan is revised at least every 6 months. You should be given a copy of it. The plan should discuss where you live and how you are doing, your health and educational needs, what sort of structure you need at your home, plans for getting you out of foster care and into a permanent home and for preparing you for leaving foster care as you become an adult.

Rights to Caseworker, Court Appointed Special Advocate, Attorney Ad Litem, and Probation Officer

As a foster youth, you have the right to contact your caseworker, Court Appointed Special Advocate (or CASA), juvenile probation officer or attorney ad litem (the attorney that represents you) at any time, even if you are in a Residential Treatment Center (RTC). You have the right to meet with your caseworker in person on a regular basis and you have the right to report any problems to your caseworker. If you are in a Texas Juvenile Justice Department facility as a foster youth, your caseworker and attorney ad litem must check in with you and the court should continue to hold regular hearings and get reports about you.

Right to Your Court Hearings

You have the right to get notice of, and be at, your court hearings and to speak with the judge. Not only does Texas law give you this right, international human rights law recognizes the importance of youth participating in their court cases. Many foster youth have concerns about not attending court hearings.  You can find out more information under CPS Case Court Hearings in the documents on the right of this page and contact the Texas Foster Youth Justice Project for assistance. A judge is required to review your case every six months while you are in foster care and to make sure CPS is doing what it is supposed to do. Court hearings are important times to let the court know about any concerns or unresolved matters, and to request orders that CPS take care of certain matters. If you feel your concerns are not being addressed promptly, don’t be shy about politely letting the judge know at the hearing and ask for responsibilities to be assigned and deadlines to be set. Be sure you attend the last hearing held before you plan to leave foster care so you can ask the judge and your caseworker any questions that you have about leaving foster care, review your rights to additional help and you can bring up any other matters of concern. Ask your caseworker about this hearing well in advance so you can be prepared. Also, the court must keep your court case open past your 18th birthday; this is called Extended Court Jurisdiction.

Health Care Decisions

The judge, your caseworker, attorney ad litem and CASA are all supposed to make sure you have the opportunity to express your opinion about your medical care. There are also special protections about “psychotropic” medicine – those medicines that impact your mood or behavior. If you have concerns or questions, speak up! Once you are 16, you have the right to ask the court to make you the person who gets to make your medical decisions. Being more involved in making your medical decisions will help you prepare to be responsible to handle your health care when you turn 18. You should know that if you feel you were harmed by over-medication or other severe mistreatment, you could bring legal action. You must do so within two years of turning 18.

Meningitis Vaccination

Be sure you are getting your meningitis vaccinations- you should be getting them between the ages of 12-16 and you should get a booster when you are 17 years old or older. You will need this to attend a Texas college and it should be free while you are on Foster Youth Medicaid and are 19 years old and under. Once you are over the age of 19, it can be more difficult to get.

Visiting Your Brothers and Sisters

While in foster care, you generally have the right to visit your family and other people (like teachers, people at your church, trusted adults and friends). A judge can decide that it is not in your best interest to visit any of these people. Before your final court hearing, you should talk to your caseworker and attorney ad litem about asking the court to give you rights to visit your brothers and sisters after you turn 18 years old. You can also ask the judge to give you these rights at the final hearing, but it is best to work this out with your caseworker and attorney ad litem before that final hearing. If you do not know where your brothers and sisters are or have not been given the chance to visit your family (including your brothers and sisters), then you should ask your caseworker and your attorney ad litem, CASA worker or guardian ad litem, and judge to provide you with information about them and their whereabouts and why there might be restrictions on you seeing them.  Once you leave foster care, the PAL program should be able to help you find siblings who are still in foster care or aged out of care in the last 5 years or so. You can also contact the Texas Foster Youth Justice Project.

Open a Bank Account and Save Money

You may want to save your own money and have your own bank account. If you are under 18 years old, you will need your caseworker or other trusted adult’s help with opening an account. However, the money in your account belongs only to you.

Learning how to save money is an important part of becoming an adult. You should discuss saving money with your caseworker. Some of the support you might be able to receive when you leave foster care will be affected by how much money you save. Generally, your support will not be affected if you do not have assets (meaning cash and property) worth more than $10,000, or more than $2,000 if you are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Usually, the value of a first car owned will not count as an asset but a 2nd car will. More information on finances for foster youth

Participation in the Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) Program

If you are 16 years or older, you may (and should) meet with a PAL representative who will help you prepare for life after foster care. For more information about the PAL program, see Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) Program.

additional

 

CPS Case Court Hearings

Your Rights in Foster Care

Not in Foster Care and Not with Parent

 

*Indicates a resource developed by the Texas Foster Youth Justice Project, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. or Texas C-Bar. Please download, copy, and distribute. Complete Resource List