April 2020Vol. 21, No. 3Letter From Jerry Milner to Child Welfare Legal and Judicial Leaders
Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau, issued a letter to child welfare legal and judicial leaders (PDF - 324 KB) that provides guidance to those in the legal community on whether the Children's Bureau can waive statutorily required judicial proceedings and for the continued need for family time in the wake of COVID-19.
The Children's Bureau expects courts and states to work together to determine how best to balance statutory requirements related to child safety against public health mandates. Courts can and should be flexible in how they convene required hearings and refer to previous guidance issued by the Children's Bureau after Hurricane Katrina (PDF - 33 KB).
The letter also provides the following guidance for attorneys, courts, court improvement programs (CIPs), and administrative offices:
- Refrain from making sweeping, blanket orders ceasing, suspending, or postponing court hearings.
- Ensure that important decisions about when and how hearings are conducted are made on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the facts of each individual matter.
- Encourage attorneys to file written motions raising issues of immediate concern.
- Make maximum use of technology to ensure due process where in-person hearings are not possible or appropriate.
- Ensure parents and youth have access to technology, such as cell phones, tablets, or computers with internet access, to participate in hearings or reviews and maintain important familial connections.
- Consider utilizing CIP funds to support and enhance virtual participation for parents, children, youth, and their attorneys in hearings and reviews.
- Encourage attorneys to resolve agreed-upon issues via stipulated orders. For example, if all parties agreed that a child in foster care can be reunified with his/her family immediately, that issue should be resolved via a stipulated order, rather than waiting weeks or months for an in-person court hearing.
In addition, Dr. Milner urges the legal community to be mindful of the need for continued family time, especially in times of crisis and heightened anxiety; understand that interruption or cessation of family time and parent-child contact can be traumatic for children; continue to hold the child welfare agency accountable for ensuring that meaningful, frequent family time continues; and encourage use of technology such as video conferencing, phone calls and other readily available forms of communication to keep children, parents, and siblings connected.