Writing a court report may be intimidating, but foster parents have the right to write the judge and be heard on behalf of the child placed in their home. You will receive notices of court hearings in the mail, which will clue you in as to when to send your court report. Some foster agencies require that their foster parents submit reports to the court, while others leave it up to the foster families.
Some foster care agencies even have forms available that make sending in a court report very easy. But I prefer actual reports. I think it's more professional, especially if your court report is well written.
Know that you can write the judge whenever you feel that there is information that may need to be reported regarding the children in your care or their case.
Here are a few key things to keep in mind when writing a court report:
Process of Writing a Court Report and Report Organization
Prepare to write the court report by having all the facts ready and close at hand. It will make the task easier when you have your documentation and calendar available and you don't have to stop working to hunt for a missing document.
In the opening paragraph note your name, the names of the foster children, and the date they moved into your foster home.
Open the letter with: "Honorable Judge [Judge's Name]"
End the letter with: "Respectfully Submitted, [your name].
Consider adding your phone number below your name.
Type the word "CONFIDENTIAL" at the top of the court report to assure that the child's Guardian Ad Litem and Court Service Officer are the only parties receiving the report.
Consider writing the court report utilizing bullet points and not blocks of text. Judges have numerous reports to read, try making your court report easier to digest with well thought out points. Also, try to keep your report to only a few pages.
Consider breaking your bullet points out into different sections such as: Physical health, mental/emotional health, education, activities, visits, personality, agency support, strengths, and needs. In your first court report you might consider the following sections: child came to home wih following needs, adjustment to foster home, visits, improvements, and recommended needs.
Points to Make within a Court Report
Describe how the children are doing in school, with siblings, with other members of the foster family, and in the community.
When informing the judge of an event, be sure to note the date the event occurred as well as any and all facts surrounding the situation and how it impacted the child.
Note how they are handling the foster care placement and how visits are impacting them. This is when you may need to report behaviors and overall attitude. Children often show how they are feeling through their behaviors and emotions. Children will also tend to show how they are doing physically as you may see children experience phantom aches and pains as well as true stomach aches and headaches. Children may also struggle academically with behaviors at school, slipping grades, and being sick at school. Do remember: Even though a child is upset after a visit, this doesn't mean that the visit was negative or a bad experience for the child. It's okay for a child to grieve. But, it's still important for the judge to know how stressful foster care is on the children.
Keep your opinions out of the court report and stick to facts. You may have one section of the court report where you note what you feel your foster child needs in terms of services, but most judges will not sit kindly with anyone telling them how to rule.
Consider adding a picture of your foster child to the report. It reminds the judge that this is about a child and not a case.