- March 2020
- Vol. 21, No. 2
The Connection Between Family Time and Reunification
An article in the American Bar Association's Child Law Practice Today focuses on the strong connection between family time and safe reunification and highlights practices that can improve the experience and outcomes for children and families.
Family time, or visitation, after a child has been removed from the home can be a stressful experience for both children and their parents. Children may be confused about whether they can express affection toward their parents in front of others, uncertain about why they are not able to go home, and anxious about sharing their feelings. Likewise, parents may feel worried about whether their child is angry at them, uncertain about how to act in front of their caseworker, and shame and embarrassment over the removal of their child.
According to the article, establishing meaningful family time requires preparation and commitment. The first time a family gets together after a child has been removed should occur as soon as possible. Ideally, a judge should order this visit to occur within 48 hours of removal. It should be planned when it does not interfere with parents' work or the child's school schedule and should occur in a place that is convenient for everyone, preferably away from the child welfare agency. Caseworkers should prepare parents logistically and emotionally on what to expect during this family time.
In most jurisdictions, family time, at least in the beginning, is usually supervised. However, having a caseworker or other chaperone present can interfere with family time and maintaining family connections. When determining the level of supervision that will occurs during these visits, agencies should make decisions on a case-by-case basis and consider the reasons a child was removed from their home, the child's age, and the other family needs. Attorneys for the families should advocate to have family time take place in the least restrictive setting with as little supervision as possible, while keeping in mind the child's safety. In addition, family time should mimic family life. It is important for families to spend time together in places they usually enjoy, such as a park, a relative's home, the family's church, or a favorite restaurant.
The article also discusses possible barriers to family time, such as insufficient transportation, staff time to organize and/or supervise, or money to develop a family time center.
To read the article, "Family Time/Visitation: Road to Safe Reunification," visit https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/child_law/resources/child_law_practiceonline/child_law_practice/vol-36/mar-apr-2017/family-time-visitation--road-to-safe-reunification/.