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What should I do when I arrive at court?
Tell Someone You are There
Once you arrive at the court, let the court staff at the entrance know that you are a foster caregiver and the name of the child whose hearing you are attending. You may be asked to wait in the courtroom until the judge comes in, or you may have to wait in the seating area outside the courtroom until the case is called. You are encouraged to find the DCFS case worker, attorneys, and/or court staff involved in the case to let them know that you are there to attend the hearing and whether you would like to speak at the hearing.
Attending the Hearing Online
Sometimes CINC court hearings are held online (i.e., due to bad weather, COVID-19, etc.). If the hearing will be conducted online (i.e., via Zoom), then a DCFS case worker should provide the login information to you before the hearing. If you have not received the login information before the hearing, contact your DCFS case worker to request it.
Speaking at the Hearing
If you let DCFS staff, court staff, and/or an attorney know you are there and your wish to speak or not, they should let the judge know you are present and whether you would like to speak. By law, the judge should ask if you have anything to share about the care and treatment of the child in your care. However, if the hearing is coming to a close and you have not been asked to speak, most judges will respond to a foster caregiver who raises his/her hand and respectfully asks to address the court.
Sitting in the Hearing
Because foster caregivers are not legal parties to the CINC proceedings, the judge can prohibit you from attending the entire hearing. As a foster caregiver, you may not be invited to sit in the hearing initially, or you may be asked to leave the hearing at some point. Courts sometimes hold conferences before the hearing that do not include everyone involved in the case. In these instances, it is important for you to know that decisions may be made that you do not hear because you are not a legal party to the case, such as a decision to return a child to the parents or place the child with a relative.
Before and After the Hearing
On the court premises, before or after the hearing, there may be an opportunity for wholesome and productive interaction and communication between the child, the parents, DCFS, the attorneys, and/or others involved in the case.