Your Legal Rights

while in foster care

What can I expect from my guardian ad litem (GAL)?

Your GAL has a duty to establish a relationship with you. Your GAL should meet with you face-to-face in a place where the GAL can determine your wishes, the safety and adequacy of your current placement, and the need for any testing or evaluation.

▪  Your GAL must review all records about your situation, and speak to all involved: your parents, caregiver, court-appointed special advocate (CASA), social worker, teachers and others.

▪  It is the GAL’s responsibility to protect your best interests. Your GAL is also responsible for ensuring the court has all of the relevant facts and important aspects of your case.

▪  Your GAL should get you a copy of your foster care plan, which legally must be provided to you if you are 12 or older, but which you can ask for at any age.

▪  The GAL must provide you with his or her contact information in case you have any questions or concerns.

What if I disagree with my GAL?

Your GAL must inform the court of your wishes even if your wishes are different from that of your GAL, but he or she is responsible for advocating what he/she feels is in your best interest. This may be different from what you want. The judge will be the one who makes the final decision.

What if the legal proceeding is confusing?

Your GAL has a duty to make sure you understand all of the proceedings you are involved in, your rights, your GAL’s duties, and any possible consequences and outcomes of the proceedings.

When will my GAL be involved?

Your GAL should be at all hearings to explain what he or she thinks is best for you.

▪  If you and your GAL disagree about what is best, the GAL must tell the court what you want, but also explain why he or she thinks what you want is not the best thing for you.

▪  Your GAL is also responsible for filing “motions” (paperwork asking the court to do something on your behalf) with the court.

When will I be involved?

You are considered a party (person involved in a legal case), so you should be involved in all phases of the proceedings, including court hearings.  This will allow you to hear what happens and express your feelings and hopes about the outcomes.

▪  If you are 12 or older, you are legally entitled to receive “notice” of all court hearings and proceedings. This means the court must notify you in writing of any court hearings about your case.  There may be times where your presence at court may not be possible. Your GAL should explain why.

» The court must consult with you in person regarding any permanency decision it makes for you (such as adoption). The court may or may not follow your wishes, but you have the right to be there and tell the court what your wishes are. This is true no matter what age you are. 

Will I have to testify?

Your GAL will take into account your age, maturity, your desired outcome, the purpose of the particular hearing and the advice given by other specialists like social workers and therapists, in determining whether or not you should testify.

What if I don’t want to testify?

If you don’t feel comfortable testifying, or your GAL feels testifying may be harmful to you, your GAL may seek an agreement not to call you as a witness, or to limit what types of questions you will be asked.  If you do testify, your GAL should try to make the process as easy as possible for you.  Your GAL may be able to arrange for you to testify on video, or talk to the judge in his or her “chambers.”

What can I do if my GAL is not doing their job to my satisfaction?

If you feel your GAL is not doing a good job for you, you must tell the judge why you are unhappy.  The judge might replace your GAL if the judge agrees with you and thinks your GAL is not representing your best interests.  Tell your social worker if you are unhappy with your GAL.

However,  your GAL does not have to contact the court every time you express dissatisfaction or unhappiness.

What about when I reach 18?

Starting at age 14, your social worker should work with you to develop a Transitional Plan. Your plan should include those things you would like to do as you transition to adulthood, as well as what services should be provided to you. Your needs and wants may change. Talk to your social worker or Independent Living coordinator to change your Transition Plan. https://www.dss.virginia.gov/family/fc/independent.cgi

Young persons in foster care who reach the age of 18 after July 1, 2016, have the right to either remain in foster care through Fostering Futures or to transition to independence and receive services through the Independent Living Program until age 21. You must be in foster care at age 18 to remain in or return to foster care after age 18.

Once you reach 18, and you wish to continue receiving foster care services until age 21, you will sign a Voluntary Continuing Services and Support Agreement (VCSSA), which will outline the services that will be provided to you, and your responsibilities to continue receiving them. To continue to receive foster care services, you may be required to complete your high school education or obtain your GED, attend vocational school or college, or be involved in job training or employment (or treatment if indicated).

Youth who are released from the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) between the ages of 18 and 21, who were in foster care in Virginia immediately prior to being commitment to DJJ, will also qualify for extended foster care upon release.

» If you leave foster care but then realize you want to return, you may do so before you reach 21. If it has been more than six months since you left foster care, you may need to create a new VCSSA.

What about my legal rights when I leave foster care?

You have the right to receive all your legal documents including a certified copy of your birth certificate, social security card, your health insurance card, driver’s license, and any other legal documents, as well as other information from your records, including photographs.