• Hidden Foster Care: Compelled Shadow Family Separations

    What is “Hidden Foster Care?”
    • Hidden Foster Care describes the practice of child protection agencies either separating children from their parents or placing restrictions on families without the involvement or approval of a court. Children are subjected to the trauma of family separation but there is no meaningful check on agency decision-making, leaving families deprived of supportive efforts to stay together or reunify. Even where a parent is truly unable to care for their child, hidden foster care deprives relatives of access to kinship stipends and supports.
    • In these cases, parents under investigation by child protection authorities tell parents they have the “option” of entering into a so-called “voluntary safety plan,” under which they agree to place their children with friends or relatives or submit to 24/7 supervision. The agreement, however, is anything but voluntary as parents are also informed that not agreeing to the safety plan may result in the immediate removal of their children into foster care.
    • The practice has come under scrutiny for circumventing judicial oversight of removals and legal safeguards against unwarranted government intervention into the family. Oftentimes the “option” is presented to families in ways that are highly coercive and inappropriate.
    The Facts
    The Harms of Hidden Foster Care
    • Families are separated with no finding that family separation is necessary for a child's safety
    • Families are deprived of reasonable agency efforts to avoid family separation
    • Families are not offered reunification services after separation occurs
    • Kinship caregivers are deprived of financial support when separation is necessary
    • Parents, children, and caregivers are deprived of any opportunity for recourse or a hearing before a neutral arbiter 
    • Guarantee access to counsel for parents who are asked to agree to a voluntary separation and/or safety plan as part of preventative services
    • Require the Administration for Children and Families Children’s Bureau to collect data that will accurately measure the number of children who are placed with kin or subject of a safety plan without the involvement of the court. Data should include:
      • The duration of such interventions
      • The ultimate outcome of the case
      • The frequency with which such interventions are utilized for purposes of prevention of harm that has not yet occurred
    • Increase due process protections surrounding the use of “safety plans” and “voluntary” kinship placements, including:
      • Providing parents with notice of the basis for any demand that a parent and child must separate during an investigation by child protective services
      • Requiring that states adopt definitions of “voluntary” transfers of physical custody
      • Prohibiting the improper use of threats, demands, ultimatums, or misinformation to compel agreement to family separations and restrictions on contact between family members
      • Requiring a timely and adequate hearing to review the basis and evidence supporting the separation or imposition of services
      • Imposing time limits on the length of voluntary separations and/or safety plan
    • Establish a process by which parents may challenge the basis for or legality of voluntary separations and/or safety plan
    • Amend the Family First Prevention Services Act to clarify that children removed from their homes and placed with relatives are not “candidates for foster care,” but are in foster care, and that any kin providing care in these circumstances shall be afforded the rights and benefits or similarly situated kinship foster parents in their state or locality
    To Learn More: Gupta-Kagan, Josh. 2020. “America’s Hidden Foster Care System.” Stanford Law Review, 72 STAN. L.REV. 841 (2020)

    Letter to Children's Bureau Commissioner

    United Family Advocates convened a diverse array of advocates for parents, children and kin who agree that urgent action must be taken at the federal level to curb the practice of Hidden Foster Care. In April 2021, we sent this letter to the Children's Bureau Commissioner, urging the Children's Bureau to issue guidance and keep data on this troubling practice.

    Joint Statement of Principles

    Our diverse coalition represents many perspectives, but we are united in our concern about the impact of Hidden Foster Care on children, parents, and family members. We worked together to articulate a core set of values and principles governing our collective approach to Hidden Foster Care. You can read our core principles here.