Juvenile Law Center

Youth in Care

Getting Your Voice Heard in Pennsylvania

If you are in out-of-home placement (like a foster home, group home, or treatment facility), you have the right to have your voice heard. If you feel like your case is not being handled properly, are dissatisfied with your current situation, or do not feel like people are listening to your wants and needs, there are certain steps you can take.

Call your social worker. Your social worker may not know there is a problem unless you tell them about it. Ask your social worker if he or she can help you make your situation better. Tell your social worker what you would like to see happen. Ask a trusted adult (school counselor, caseworker, etc.) to help you make the phone call if you need support.

Go up the “chain of command” at the child welfare agency. If your social worker is not returning your calls or does not respond to your concerns, you can call his or her supervisor. Explain your concerns to the supervisor and see if he or she has any ideas on how to make your situation better. If you still do not feel like your voice is being heard, each children and youth agency has a “chain of command” of supervisors. Continue to reach out to other supervisors within the agency if the individuals you have contacted are not being helpful.

Chain of command at the child welfare agency:

Your social worker

Your social worker’s supervisor

Administrator

County agency’s head

Regional office of DPW

Office of Children, Youth and Families (state agency)

Talk to your lawyer. In Pennsylvania, all youth in out-of-home care (including foster care, group homes, treatment facilities, etc.) are appointed an attorney, called a Guardian ad Litem, to represent the youth in court. You should let your lawyer know if you are dissatisfied with your current situation or if your needs are not being met. It is your lawyer’s job to advocate for your wishes and your best interests, so tell your lawyer what you want for yourself (for example, where you will live, what kinds of services you will receive, etc.). If you do not know who your lawyer is, you should ask your social worker or his or her supervisor.

Voice your concerns in court. If you are in out-of-home care, your case is reviewed in court at least every six months. Youth—especially older youth— should be present at and should participate in these hearings. If you feel like your needs are not being met or are dissatisfied with your current situation, you can voice your concerns in court. The judge has the authority to make changes to your situation if he or she decides the changes are in your best interest.

File a grievance, or complaint. If you are in out-of-home care, the children and youth agency as well as any private provider agency involved in your case must have a grievance process in place. When you enter a placement, someone should explain to you how to file a grievance or complaint. If you don’t remember how this process works, contact your social worker (or the agency where he or she works) to find out how to begin the grievance process.

More information about the grievance process:

Under Pennsylvania’s regulations, the county child welfare agency and all service providers, including foster care agencies, group homes, residential treatment centers, and supervised independent living programs, must have a grievance policy. It is required for this policy to:

  • Be explained to the youth at the time of placement or at the beginning of receiving services 
  • Be provided to the youth in writing and posted in placement facilities 
  • Make clear that you will not get in trouble for filing a grievance 
  • Be easy to understand

There must be documentation in the youth’s file that he or she has been informed of the grievance policy. (55 Pa. Code §§ 3130.88; 3680.48; 3800.31)

 

Last updated December 2011

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