Last month, my husband and I were granted legal guardianship of a minor which means, we are no longer foster parents. For the time being, anyway.
Guardianship is not something I’ve talked much about because quite honestly, it wasn’t on my radar until recently. Most questions I receive are about how foster care differs from adoption but now I find myself trying to explain how guardianship fits in to the equation, so it seemed like a relevant topic to share this month.
When a child is placed in foster care, the goal for that child is to be reunified with biological parents. In foster care, the state essentially has custody of the child and foster parents have very few rights. The job of the foster parent is to care for the child within the parameters set by the Department of Children and Families and support reunification of the family. While the children are in care, an action plan is created with steps the parents need to take for their children to return home. Timelines vary greatly by case, but if a parent is making progress on their action plan, the children will likely return home.
While reunification is always the goal, there are some situations where progress is not made by the parents and a “pre-adoptive” goal may be discussed for the child. Even if those discussions are being had by the social work team, every effort will still be made to work towards reunification. It may take years for the legal process of terminating parental rights and subsequent adoption to take place, if it takes place at all. Once an adoption is finalized, it is permanent. The adoptive parent will assume all the rights and responsibilities of a parent and legally, the biological parent will not retain any of these rights.
In short, foster care is temporary and adoption is forever. Guardianship, however, lies somewhere in the middle. The little boy we are now guardians of is our former foster child who we were lucky enough to remain connected with. After a series of transitions over the last couple years, we were approached by his family member about becoming his legal guardians. Technically, we were awarded permanent guardianship through the court but the word “permanent” can be misleading. Guardianship does not terminate his parents’ rights, and they still have the option to petition the court for guardianship in the future. However, as his guardians, we now have most of the rights of a typical parent with a few exceptions.
After several years as foster parents, we must constantly remind ourselves that we are now the decision makers. This change of role is both a relief and a huge responsibility. It feels like a luxury to be able to travel out of state or cut his hair without permission but can be tricky to set boundaries with extended biological family, for example.