Handbooks for Birth Parents

For birth parents whose children have entered the foster care system, the intricacies of the child welfare and legal systems can be overwhelming. In response to this, some states have created handbooks for birth parents to help guide them through the process. Below are some handbooks that are available online.


  • A Family’s Guide to the Child Welfare System
    This handbook was written collaboratively by the National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health, Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, the Child Welfare League of America and National Indian Child Welfare Association. It aims to help birth families understand how the child welfare system works, inform them of their rights and responsibilities, and help answer questions they may have. Ultimately, it seeks to ease any anger and fear a family may have, building a feeling of empowerment while dealing with the child welfare system. (2005)

Resources From the States

  • Alaska
    A Handbook for Parents and Guardians in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases
    Designed for Alaskan parents or guardians who are involved in child abuse and neglect cases, this handbook outlines the court processes involved in these types of cases. Information is provided on the rights and responsibilities of parents, the role of the Division of Family and Youth Services (DFYS), and different types of hearings and conferences, including: the termination of parental rights hearing; the permanency court hearing; the permanency planning conference at DFYS; the temporary custody court hearing; the pre-trial conference page; the adjudication hearing; the disposition hearing page; and the Family and Children 6 Month Review/Conference. DFYS procedures when involved with a Native child are explained, as well as the roles of social workers and family attorneys in helping children and families. Contact information is provided for local DFYS offices and State offices.
  • California
    Dependency Court
    California provides two booklets for parents involved in the dependency system: "Juvenile Court Information for Parents (Dependency)" and "The Dependency Court: How it Works." These two booklets answer common questions parents may have when dealing with the court system. Parents will gain information about their rights and ways to navigate dependency court. Both are available online and in English, Spanish, Korean, Cambodian, Chinese, Russian, and Hmong. (1999)
  • Florida:
    These resources are from the Florida courts:
    • A Parent's Guide to Juvenile Dependency Court (Booklet)
      Any time there is a concern that a child has been or is in immediate danger of being abused, abandoned, or neglected, it is heard in Juvenile Dependency Court. This booklet provides parents with a working knowledge of the Juvenile Dependency Court system. The booklet is broken up into several primary sections: Juvenile Dependency Court in General; What is Going On?; Where Is My Child Now?; Can I See My Child?, What Are My Rights?; Do I Need A Lawyer?; What Happens In Court?; How Can I Get My Child Back?; and, Important Things to Know.
    • A Family Guide to Dependency Court (Video)
      This video was jointly developed by the Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Court and the Office of Court Improvement. The video provides an overview of the dependency court system for parents involved in the system.
  • Hawaii
    Guide to Child Welfare Services
    The Hawaii Department of Human Services has separate guides for the Big Island, Kauai, Maui, and Oahu. All four guides discuss the process Child Welfare Services will take in the event that a report of abuse or neglect has been made. Parents will learn their rights and gain a broad understanding of the investigation and assessment process. (2007)
  • Illinois
    Substitute Care and Your Child
    This handbook from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is available for download in both English and Spanish. This booklet has been prepared for birth parents to explain what has happened, what to expect and guidelines for what one should do when involved with Child Protective Services.  The information in this booklet is very general and not based on the specific facts of personal cases. This information is only intended as a guideline; it is not a substitute for a lawyer. (2003)
  • Iowa
    Parent's Juvenile Court Handbook
    This handbook focuses specifically on court processes. It is designed to help parents understand what is going on with their case, what to expect in the future with hearings, and what their rights and responsibilities are in a "child in need of assistance" case. (2008)
  • Maine
    A Guide to Child Protective Services
    This brochure produced by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services serves as a          preliminary guide for birth parents to grasp a better understanding of Child Protective Services (CPS). Parents learn the legal rights they have, the rights of their child, and the role and responsibility of CPS in their case. (2006)
  • Massachusetts
    You Are  not Alone: An Empowering Guide for Parents Whose Children arein DCF Foster Care
    This 50 page booklet was written by parents whose children were placed in foster care by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF).  The Guide focuses on what parents should do in the first 72 hours after removal to maintain their sanity, keep their children safe, and work to regain custody, if that is what they want.
    Information is provided about how DCF works and what to expect in court. A Glossary and sample forms to keep track of case activities are provided. Also available in Spanish. (2010)

  • Michigan
    A Parent's Guide to Children's Protective Services
    Developed by the Michigan Department of Human Services, this handbook provides parents with an understanding of how the CPS process works. This booklet includes information on: “What CPS is; What a CPS worker does; What steps a CPS worker follows; How CPS can help your family; What Central Registry is; Important court hearings you might go to; Answers to common questions and different words you might hear the CPS worker use; Your rights and responsibilities as a parent; and, Where else you can get help.” (2006)
  • Montana
    What Happens Next
    The purpose of this booklet is to provide answers to the questions that are most often asked after a report of possible child abuse or neglect has been received by the Child and Family Services Division Child Abuse Hotline. Parents will gain an understanding of what happens during a Child and Family Services Division assessment and investigation. (2007)
  • New Jersey
    A Guide For Parents: When Your Child is in Foster Care (English)
    Una guía para los padres: cuando su hijo se encuentra en cuidado de crianza provisional (Spanish)
    This handbook was created by The Department of Children and Families to help families involved with the Division of Youth and Family Services whose children have been placed in foster care. Families need to know why children have been removed from their parents’ care, what to expect when this happens, and how and when their children can return home. It includes the following sections: Critical Definitions of Terms; Questions & Answers; Understanding the Process; Reunification – Bringing My Child Home; When Reunification Cannot Be Achieved; and, Use Your Resources! (2009)
  • New Mexico
    Handbook for Parents and Guardians in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases
    Being involved in a child abuse and neglect case can be very confusing and stressful for a family. Not knowing what to expect can make it even harder. This handbook will help parents understand what will happen with their case, and explain and give answers about the court process and the people helping them with their case. This handbook offers section and spaces for parents to write the names of the people who will be helping them and the dates of meetings and court hearings. (2007)
    • The Survival Guide to the NYC Child Welfare System: A Workbook for Parents by Parents
      This workbook was written by parents who have had first hand dealings with the New York City Administration for Children's Services (ACS), in partnership with lawyers and social workers working in Family Court and its related systems. It explains ACS child welfare processes, the rights of parents, and strategies for working with ACS to ensure children are kept at home, brought back home as fast as possible, or receiving the best care and support possible if they cannot be home. Also available in Spanish and Chinese. (2010)
  • North Carolina:
    Understanding Foster Care: A Handbook for Foster Parents
    The North Carolina Division of Social Services has published a handbook for parents whose children have entered the foster care system. In this handbook, it explains why children are placed in foster care, how DSS and court work, and the rights and responsibilities of birth parents and their children. (1998)
  • Pennsylvania:
    Allegheny County: A Parent's Handbook
    This book approaches a birth parent as a partner in helping to solve problems and improve family life. The handbook provides information about the rights and responsibilities of the birth parents, the child, the agency, and the legal system. (2008)
  • South Carolina
    Child Protective Services: A Guide for Parents
    Developed by the Department of Social Services, this guide helps parents better understand why they are involved with Child Protective Services and answers any questions they may have.
  • South Dakota
    What I Should Know About My Child Living in Foster Care
    The South Dakota Department of Social Services has developed this guide to provide parents with basic information about child protective services, foster care in South Dakota (including information on Indian child welfare) visitation policies, financial responsibility and the juvenile court system. (2009)
  • Tennessee
    Clients’ Rights Handbook
    The Tennessee Department of Child Services has produces this booklet which spells out how the DCS process works. It describes what happens when DCS gets called, what will happen during the case process, and what Child Protective Services will seek to do and how they will work to keep a child’s best interests at heart. The handbook is also available in Spanish. (2010)
  • Vermont
    A Guide for Parents with Children in DCF Custody
    This guide has been developed by the Vermont Department of Human Services. General information and answers are offered to the parents whose children have been placed in the care of the State. It was prepared with the help of families who have been through the court process. (2011)
  • Washington
    Parent's Guide to Child Protective Services (CPS)
    The Washington State Department of Social & Health Services has produced this guide to help parents understand why their family has been contacted by Child Protective Services. It discusses the role of CPS, answers questions parents may have about their case, lists the rights of the parents as well as the child, and offers information about re-gaining custody. (2003)
  • Wisconsin
    Parents Guide to Child Protective Services (CPS) Assessments
    This brochure has been prepared by the Marathon County Department of Social Services to help parents understand what to expect if they are involved in a child protective service case. It answers important questions, such as, “Why has child protective services contacted me?; What is child abuse or neglect?; Will my child be taken away?; and, What if I don’t agree with how my case was handled?”.


Last updated 3/6/12