Knowing Your Rights

KidsVoice advocates for children involved in the Allegheny County Juvenile Dependency system. If you have been removed from your parent or guardian, if your CYF caseworker has filed a Petition for Dependency, if your parent or a police officer has filed a Private Dependency Petition, you will be assigned an Attorney and Child Advocacy Specialist from KidsVoice who will advocate for you in dependency court.

Know Your Rights In Care

When you're in the child welfare system, it's important to know that you have rights too! You have the right to a safe, comfortable living environment:

  • With enough clothes and healthy food
  • With your own place to store your things
  • With a phone that you can use for confidential calls (unless a judge says that you cannot)
  • That is as family-like and least restrictive as possible
  • Where you have the contact information for everyone assigned to the case (caseworker, probation officer, etc...)

Your attorney and your child advocacy specialist (CAS) are there to work with you throughout your case. They can help you with:

  • Getting visits with your brothers, sisters, parents
  • Questions about court, your case plans, or your placement
  • Working with others involved with your case (e.g. Probation Officer, School Official, etc...)
  • Making sure all your needs are being met
  • Any other concerns you have

Speak up for yourself!

You have to stand up for your rights, too. Be your own advocate-this means speaking up for yourself. It is very important to speak up for yourself and helping people (your attorney, CAS, the judge) understand what you think is best for you. It's hard work and a big responsibility, and we know you can do it.

You have the right to visit with your family-parents, brothers, sisters-at least every other week unless a court order says otherwise. Family visits can't be given as a reward or taken away as punishment. If you feel like something is wrong, or like you're being treated unfairly, you can file a grievance (there's a specific form). A grievance is like a complaint. Ask your lawyer, CAS, case manager at your placement, or caseworker to see if you can get the situation changed. You can't get in trouble for filing a grievance.


Participating In Your Court Hearing

Court hearings are where important decisions get made about your life and you are required to attend those hearings. In Allegheny County, juvenile court dependency hearings are heard at a courthouse in Pittsburgh known as the Family Law Center, located at 440 Ross Street, Pittsburgh 15219, if the hearing is scheduled before a Judge. If the hearing is scheduled before a Hearing Officer, there are several regional locations throughout the county where those hearings are held. If you have questions about the date and time of your next court hearing, call KidsVoice at 412-391-3100.

It is very important that your Judge hear from you about how things are going and what you want to see happen next with your case. There are a number of ways that you can communicate with the court.

The best way is for you to speak with the Judge yourself - your attorney can help you prepare what you want to say and how to say it. Sometimes, children are uncomfortable saying everything they want to say to the Judge when their parents or foster parents or relatives are present in court. If that is how you are feeling, your attorney can let the Judge know that you prefer to speak with the Judge without certain people being able to hear what you are saying.

Another way to let your Judge know what you are thinking is for you to write your thoughts on paper and present it to the judge at the hearing.

You can also let the court know what is going on by having your attorney tell the judge how you are feeling and what you want to see happen in your case. Your attorney is always available to do this for you at any hearing.

In addition to letting the court know what you are thinking, another important reason to attend court hearings is that you will hear what else is going on in your case - what others are doing or saying. In other words, you will have the full picture and hopefully, a better understanding of why the Judge is making certain decisions.


Re-Entering Foster Care

If you left foster care and your court case closed when you were 17¾ years old or older and you are currently under 21 years old, you may be eligible to re-enter care under certain circumstances. This is also referred to as "resumption of jurisdiction" or "re-opening" your case.

There are many reasons why a formerly dependent youth may want to re-enter foster care, including:

  • Youth is experiencing unstable housing (living on the street or in a homeless shelter, "couch surfing")
  • Youth has physical and/or behavioral health needs that are not being met
  • Youth is not able to meet his/her basic and daily living needs
  • Youth has no support system or resources

Re-entering foster care can give you a place to live, health insurance and other services you may need until you turn 21 years old or are ready to live on your own. This support can help you meet your goals for education, employment, saving money and even connecting or reconnecting with your family.

For the court to re-open your case or resume jurisdiction, you need to be doing or agree to do at least one of the following activities*:

  • Completing high school or an equivalent program
  • Enrolled in a post-secondary or vocational program
  • Participating in a program that will help you get a job or
  • Working at least 80 hours per month

* If you are unable to do any of the above activities because of a medical or mental health condition, you may still be eligible to re-enter foster care.

If you are interested in re-entering foster care and/or have questions about re-entering care, please contact your former attorney/ guardian ad litem at KidsVoice (412-391-3100), your former CYF caseworker and/or your current and/or former IL caseworker.


Resources

Resources for Knowing Your Rights