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Unprecedented: N.J. judges find foster parents have no say in child placement

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: The hearts of New Jersey foster parents are in the right place, but that doesn’t give them a say in placement hearings, a state appeals court has ruled in an unprecedented decision stemming from a Hudson County case.

The “resource parents,” as parents are called in the state’s courts, have “no independent legal interest” when a judge is weighing where to place youngsters from troubled situations, the Appellate Division determined. That responsibility belongs to a law guardian appointed by DYFS.

“The importance of the essential role of resource parents in the child placement arena is unquestioned,” Judge Marie Lihotz wrote. “However, the legal rights of such caregivers in securing an undisturbed relationship with a child placed in their home [are] very limited.”

The decision was brought on by a Hudson County judge’s refusal to allow two foster parents a say in a hearing that removed a child from her drug-addicted parents and placed the girl with her aunt.

The youngster, now 2, was born on July 16, 20009 with cocaine and other drugs in her system, which put her into a hospital for six weeks. She ended up with the foster parents while DYFS moved to remove her parents’ biological rights.

The foster parents requested “full participation” in proceedings aimed at final placement of the girl, calling themselves “indispensible parties” and “psychological parents.”

They said they had plenty of information to share, wanted to review expert reports produced by DYFS and requested they be allowed to retain their own expert. They also gave the judge statements from a pediatrician.

Superior Court Judge Marilyn Foti in Jersey City allowed them to speak, and to attend various hearings, but said their participation ended there. Their testimony couldn’t carry any weight in the ultimate decision, in which the girl was taken from them on April 21. 2011, Foti ruled.

They appealed.

The appeals judges backed Foti, saying the foster parents “should be given the opportunity to let the judge know their wishes during the best-interests hearing.” They noted that  “Foti evaluated the competence, sensitivity, patience, responsiveness and devotion of all possible caregivers.”

They even went so far as to say that it would hurt the girl somewhat to be removed “from the loving care” of the foster parents.

In the end, however, the appeals judges said Foti “properly balanced the evidence of all necessary considerations and was not merely a preference for a relative placement over care by her resource parents.”

What’s more, they said, DYFS clearly spells out in its contract that foster parents don’t have the legal right to seek adoption.

The foster parents “opened their home” to the girl, identified in court papers as V.B., “who then stole their hearts,” the judges wrote.

“The protective services system values adults like [them], who have optimally fulfilled their role as resource parents. The commitment, care, sacrifice and unconditional love [they] nobly conferred on V.B. will forever alter the course of her life. Nevertheless, the emotional ties that unavoidably developed neither result in psychological parent status nor otherwise confer an interest permitting standing to intervene in a interests hearing.”

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