Dawn’s Blog

A FOSTER CHILD’S RELATIONSHIP TO FOSTER PARENTS ACQUIRES MORE LEGAL SIGNIFICANCE AS TIME PASSES

Foster Parents, Adoption, Attorneys & Courts

  • At 6 months, the foster child’s relationship with foster parents becomes a “significant relationship,” so it has weight when compared with other nonparental, pre-removal relationships.

  • At 9 months, the foster parents don’t just get notice of hearings regarding the child but an increased right to participate regarding the child’s best interest.

  • At 12 months, foster parents get preference to adopt should the child become available for adoption.


At 6 months the foster child’s relationship
with foster parents becomes a “significant relationship,” so it has weight when compared with other nonparental pre-removal relationships.

Foster children are sometimes moved from stable foster families to the homes of people associated with their birth family. At initial removal, keeping children in their broader community is well established as a benefit to the child. But after the child has established a healthy parental attachment with a foster family moving the child, for example, to  their mother’s boyfriend’s sister’s home or even a grandparent may be damaging to the child.

To support quick placements within the child’s family or community, the Department must focus on locating kinship foster care during at least the first 30 days after removal. T.C.A. § 37-2-414(b)(2). If the child is quickly placed with a safe kinship home, the child gains the benefits of a community placement and is spared disruption of a healthy attachment with the foster parents.

The child welfare system focuses primarily on pre-removal relationships and places little value on the child’s attachments formed post-removal. Kids, of course, form parental attachments with loving caregivers without regard to the classifications of people applied by the child welfare system.  A legislative fix offers a way to value the healthy attachments of foster children to foster parents. 

Effective July 1, 2023, T.C.A. § 37-2-403 (b)(4) A foster parent or kinship caregiver whom a child has resided with for six (6) months or more is a person who has a “significant relationship” with the child. Absent evidence to the contrary, the Department, foster care advisory review board, or court may presume that continuation of the child’s placement with, or adoption by, the child’s current caregivers is in the child’s best interest.

At 9 months the foster parents don’t just get
notice of hearings and reviews about the
child but have an increased right to
participate on the issue of the child’s best interest.

Foster parents have long been entitled to prompt notice of all court hearings about the child. After 9 months, they are also permitted to appear and actively participate in hearings and reviews to present evidence regarding the child’s best interest. T.C.A. § 37-2-415(a)(17) and 37-2-416(a) and (b).

At 12 months foster parents
get preference to adopt should
the child become
available for adoption.

T.C.A. § 36-1-115(g)(1) and echoed with a bit less strength at 37-2-415(a)(20).

This is the long-standing foster parent preference to adopt children who have been in their care for one year.

Lawyers and judges are just learning about these new rights.  The judge may not be in the habit of offering foster parents a chance to speak at hearings for a while.  Foster parents may need to stand up and respectfully ask to be recognized.  Foster parents can share a copy of this post with your social worker, GAL, Department lawyer, or court staff as necessary to be recognized. At their own expense, foster parents may also hire an attorney to help them be heard.

Look for a blog post soon about the rumor that foster parents can’t consult lawyers. Spoiler alert, it is fake news.


To have Dawn’s newsy blog post delivered
directly to your email
subscribe at https://dawncoppock.com/legal-topics-attorneys-courts/

Go to https://dawncoppock.com/dcs-foster-parents/ for other useful information about foster parent adoption in Tennessee.

About Dawn Coppock

Tennessee Adoption Attorney and Author

For over 30 years, Dawn has been an adoption and child-welfare advocate nationally and in Tennessee. She knows where the system is working and the many places that it is not. When she provides her frank assessment to policy makers, they listen. She has drafted and passed many child-welfare bills in the Tennessee Legislature, founded, encouraged and supported advocacy organizations, educated lawyers and judges on good practice, and pointed out places that we can do better for our children, openly and behind the scenes at every opportunity.

Dawn Coppock, Adoption Attorney

Are You Ready to Grow Your Family Through Adoption?

Consulting Services For Attorneys and Agencies