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Discipline: A Major Concern Facing Foster Parents

Attorneys at Law Timlin & Rye July 1, 2014

A major concern for foster parents is the inability to impose strict consequences for bad behavior to the children in their care.

What would you do if your teenage child acted out?  If your child was staying out all night, or doing drugs, or engaging in risky sexual behavior, or committing crimes you, as a parent, would discipline him/her?

You would give your child consequences: ground them, punish them, put them into treatment.  If those consequences did not work, you would likely impose more severe consequences including decreasing financial support, taking away transportation, or even asking your child to live somewhere else.

Imposing these consequences would be an acceptable response for any parent with a child engaging in bad or risky behavior.  For teens in foster care in Colorado, however, there are few consequences that can be imposed for these behaviors.

Foster parents cannot force these kids into treatment, cannot stop providing financial support, and cannot require the teen to leave the home as a consequence for bad behavior.

Juvenile courts overseeing foster care cases have little to no authority to impose sanctions on teens for bad behavior.  Even if the court orders that a teen comply with household rules, not use drugs, and attend school, the court has little recourse when those orders are not followed.

If a person violates a court order, he or she can be held in contempt and sanctions, including jail time, can be imposed.  But, teens that violate court orders cannot be put in juvenile detention unless they’ve been convicted of a crime.

Meaning teens in foster care, who regularly use drugs, cannot be punished by the court unless also charged with a crime, which is not best for them in the long run.  The hope is to address the issues without involvement in criminal court.

These situations create a strange juxtaposition for people working with teens in foster care. On the one hand, teens in foster care need to be supported because of terrible life experiences and the fact that they are being raised by the state. On the other hand, teens in foster care need to be held accountable for their actions and need consequences for engaging in risky and illegal behaviors.

Discipline limitations for foster teens create challenges for professionals and foster parents in addressing teens acting out behavior.  The result is a group of teens in foster care who regularly engage in bad or risky behavior and who continue, and will continue, to receive a roof over their head, meals every day, a warm bed, clothing, and all of life’s necessities.

These kids have seen and experienced horrible things and, make no mistake, they deserve a little leeway.  However, there’s a point where an adult must be able to hold a child accountable for his/her own actions.

In Colorado, this cannot occur for a teen in foster care the same way it would occur for a parent disciplining his/her own child.  The system is not currently set up to discipline these teens, in a way that would allow them to learn these life lessons.

If you are interested in talking with a Timlin & Rye attorney about some of these concerns, please contact our office for assistance – call or email us.

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