Foster Parents' Rights at Dispositional Hearing

Where a child has been placed with a foster parent, with relatives or with other persons who are able and willing to permanently integrate the child into the family by adoption, if the court finds that it is in the best interests of the child, the court may provide the opportunity for such foster parent, relative or other person to present evidence for the consideration of the court.  Section 211.464.1, RSMo.  Section 211.464.2, RSMo., provides that the current foster parents or other legal custodians who are not seeking to adopt the child shall be given an opportunity to testify at all hearings regarding the child.  Where a petition is filed concerning a minor child who is in the care of foster parents or other legal custodians, the court shall give notice to such foster parents or legal custodians of the filing, any future hearings held on such petition and their opportunity to testify at any subsequent hearings held in relation to such petition, unless such notice and opportunity is waived by such foster or custodial parent.  Section 211.464.2, RSMo.

This statute does not, however, authorize the foster parents to participate in the TPR proceeding as parties. In Interest of D.L.C., 834 S.W.2d 760 (Mo.App.S.D. 1992).  Allowing participation by the foster parents as parties in the TPR proceeding taints the proceedings to such a degree that reversal is required. Id. The degree or extent of participation seems to be the issue which may result in a reversal.  While Section 211.464, RSMo., arguably authorizes the foster parents to be represented by counsel for the purpose of assembling and presenting evidence relevant to the grounds for termination which have been asserted in the petition for termination of parental rights, Section 211.464, RSMo., does not authorize the trial court to grant foster parents the right to participate in a termination proceeding as full-fledged parties, nor does it authorize foster parents to present evidence alien to the termination issue. Id. at 768. Cf.  In Interest of M.K.P., 616 S.W.2d 72 (Mo.App.W.D. 1981), where a termination order was affirmed.  In M.K.P., the Western District held that allowing the foster parents to intervene was error, however, since the foster parents' attorney was not involved in the hearing, asked no questions, and made no plea to the court, and because the foster parents did not inject the false issue of fitness of the foster parents, the termination order could be affirmed.  In D.L.C., supra, 834 S.W.2d at 760, the foster parents' attorney conducted extensive cross examination of all witnesses, presented evidence, made numerous objections and cited and argued law to the trial court.  This amount of participation by the foster parents was held to constitute error.  The trial court is cautioned to carefully limit participation in the proceedings by foster parents in accordance with the foregoing principles.