Foster parent rights: Abuse intervention focus in one of two cases before CO Supreme Court

Earlier this week, we told you the story of a little boy in Montezuma County who suffered horrible abuse in his parents' care and was placed with a foster family. That family eventually intervened in the court case to terminate the parents' rights, offering information and cross-examining witnesses. On Thursday, the Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments about whether that intervention was proper.

Foster parents "have an ulterior motive," said attorney Jon Kelly, who represents the biological father of the boy, who's now four years old. Attorneys for both biological parents and Montezuma County argued that allowing foster parents to become parties in a termination case sets up a custody battle.

"They are there to go after the parents," attorney Tom Williamson, who represents the biological mother, said of foster parents. They do that by "dog-piling" the biological parents with questions meant to chip away at their credibility, he said, which isn't fair.

In this case, the boy's guardian ad litem, an attorney chosen to represent his best interests in court, filed the motion to terminate the parents' rights after the parents repeatedly failed to keep the child safe. The foster parents intervened, which means they became parties to the case. State law says that foster parents or relatives who've had a child in their care for more than three months can intervene in court if they have "information or knowledge concerning the care and protection of the child."

But the parties disagree on what "intervene" means. Attorneys for the county and the biological parents cede that foster parents should be allowed to offer information and testify about the child at hearings. But they don't think foster parents should be allowed to hire their own attorneys and ask questions of other witnesses.

Chief Justice Michael Bender inquired if the foster parents' attorney asked any questions that the guardian ad litem could not have asked, thereby influencing the outcome. No, Williamson said, but some of the questions they did ask were "repetitive."

Tim Eirich, who represented the foster parents, says intervention isn't about fighting over custody. He quoted the trial judge when he said, "The important thing is that we get a full disclosure of all of the facts." Intervention helps make that possible, he argued.

The Supreme Court also heard another case regarding the rights of foster parents. That case involves a foster child who was removed from a foster home without explanation. The court will consider whether foster parents who've bonded with a child have a right to be further involved in that child's life -- and his or her court case.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Ward Churchill's CU rehiring bid reaches Colorado Supreme Court."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar