The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that there should be no limit on foster parents' participation in hearings that can lead to the termination of the parental rights of biological parents.
The ruling Monday overturns a decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals that led to restoration of parental rights to the mother of a 2-year-old boy.
A court ordered the boy be placed in foster care after the Montezuma County Department of Social Services found the child had numerous injuries and that there had been multiple instances of domestic violence in the home.
The Colorado Court of Appeals determined that the foster parents cross-examination of a witness exceeded their appropriate role in the hearing and restored the mother's rights.
The debate focused on whether the foster parent intervention statute allows foster caregivers to present evidence and arguments, as well as cross-examine witnesses, during hearings involving children in their care.
The state's highest court said foster parents who meet criteria set out in state law should not be limited in their participation. According to the statute, foster parents can participate in termination hearings following a court decision that the child has been abused and neglected. They must also have cared for the child for at least three months and claim to have knowledge and information concerning the care and protection of the child,
"Foster parents are often uniquely positioned to provide a juvenile court with the most up-to-date status of the child and the child's well-being," the decision written by Justice Brian D. Boatright says.
The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals ruling with respect to the termination of the father's parental rights, but told the court to reinstate the trial court's order that terminated the mother's rights.
Tom Williamson, attorney for the boy's mother, said his client is disappointed by the decision because she "has worked very hard to get into position to be the mother of her child again."
The court reviewed the case at the request of the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center.
"We think it was a great decision for kids who are part of the child welfare system and who have been abused and neglected and for the foster parents who care for them," litigation director Jeff Koy said.
The foster parents in the case had information from doctors and others about the child's injuries and could report on the way he acted before and after visits from his biological parents, Koy said.
Tom McGhee: 303-954-1671, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/dpmcghee