Jay & Campbell

Being Heard in Court

A question we get asked a lot as caregivers in dependency cases is, “can I speak in court?”  The short answer is yes. Caregivers, whether foster parents, relative caregivers, or non-relative caregivers, have the legal right to be heard by the court. What “being heard” looks like in practice varies from courtroom to courtroom, across the State of Florida. Some courts require caregivers to fill out a “Caregiver Input Form,” to be filed in court or presented to the judge on the day of the hearing.

In other courtrooms, the judge will ask the caregivers at the hearing if they would like to share anything with the court. That may include medical, emotional, or special needs of the child. It may include visitation issues. It may involve issues of permanency for the child, such as a termination of parental rights or adoption.  This is your opportunity to briefly—and as eloquently as you can—tell the court what is going on with this child and what you feel needs to happen in the case.  Not only do you have the right to be heard by the court, you also have the right to notice—at least 72 hours in advance—of every court hearing. Everyone on the case—the case managers, DCF attorneys, guardian ad litem, and guardian ad litem attorneys—should be aware of your right to proper notice.  You absolutely have the right to be heard and we encourage caregivers to take advantage of it at every opportunity. You are caring for the child on a daily basis and you are the BEST person, in the best position, to share that child’s needs and desires with the court. Please do not let anyone discourage you from exercising your right to be heard by the court.

For a list of laws that support a caregiver’s right to information, click here.