March 2020 | Vol. 21, No. 2
Written by Jerry Milner and David Kelly
If we are sincere in our statements that family comes first—that families matter and belong together—our child welfare system is the proving ground we have before us. If we are sincere in our proclamations that foster care is a temporary option of last resort, we must do everything we can to prevent unnecessary removal and support and enhance the parent-child relationship when a child is in foster care. If we are sincere in our commitment to follow federal law, we must do all in our power to strengthen and protect the integrity of the parent-child bond while a child or youth is in foster care. As a field, this requires all of us to view foster care as more than a "placement" and far more than a bed. For the vast majority of children and youth in foster care, foster care can and should be a vehicle to promote healthy reunification—the most direct way to follow the law.
If the goal of foster care is to provide for temporary care while a child achieves reunification, why do we continue to hear young people recount their histories with statements such as, "I was in care for 18 years with 18 placements," or "17 years with 17 placements," or "12 years with 21 placements"? Why do we continue to hear about young people "emancipating" from foster care to return to their families of origin when agencies have done little or nothing to prepare the young person or the family for getting back together? Why do we leave familial and particular parental resources unsupported, undeveloped, and underused?
What should we make of instances where a parent in recovery may go months, a year, or longer without seeing her infant that was removed at birth due to positive toxicity?
Why do we continue to see and hear standard procedures in courts and agencies that assume parent-child visits will be limited and supervised and where parents must effectively earn greater visiting privileges? We talk about the importance of parent-child relationships. We have laws and regulations that speak to the need to "normalize" the foster care experience. Yet, our actions often speak louder than our words.
Our words say that foster care is temporary, supports parent-child relationships, and meets children's needs for safety, permanency, and well-being. Our actions too often say that foster care will go on for years, that we hold parents at arms distance or alienate them, and that physical safety trumps both permanency and well-being. How do we reconcile the contrast between our words and our actions?
We can begin by taking family time seriously.
Without time together, how do we expect parents and children to grow and heal together?
Without time together, how do we expect parents to practice parenting and children to learn routines and structure and feel cared for in uninterrupted ways.
The simple answer is that it is not logical or reasonable to expect separated families to reunify unless we prioritize and value making sure they spend meaningful time together.
In our time in the field, we have each encountered situations where courts and agencies treat family time—all too often referred to as "visitation"—as reward or punishment. We have seen it used as a privilege a parent must earn, much in the way an inmate earns privileges in the penal system. We have seen visitation suspended or canceled when a judge or a social worker feels a parent has not complied with expected behavior or case-planned goals. We have seen visitation cancelled due to positive drug tests days or weeks before scheduled visitation. And, in our travels to now 42 states in nearly 3 years, we have heard from attorneys, judges, social workers, parents, and young people working in the system or with lived experience that such practices remain commonplace today.
This needs to stop.
Absent an immediate danger, we should regard family time as a critical reasonable effort to reunify, and we must prioritize it. Research makes clear that there is a strong relationship between high-frequency, meaningful family time and reunification.
Failure to treat family time as a critical reasonable effort to reunify is a threat to child and family well-being and an impediment to permanency. In order for family time to actually support the child's and family's well-being and promote permanency, it must be more than an arranged hour or two of time between a parent and child in a sterile environment where neither feels free to interact naturally. Family time should provide opportunities for parents to carry out parenting responsibilities and for children to see their parents as people who care about them and are trying to meet their needs. Family time should provide the most normalized environment that is as safe as possible given the abnormality of foster care itself.
When we ensure that normalized family time is an essential part of the foster care experience and fully engage parents in the process, we provide them with hope that reunification is possible, that parenting can be successful, and that they can surmount the difficulties they may face in dealing with whatever brought their children into foster care. Without such hope, parents run the risk of becoming overwhelmed, discouraged, and disengaged and believing that they cannot actually meet their children's needs. This, in turn, can lead to the circumstances behind the stories we hear—spending 17 or 18 years in foster care. When we engage parents actively in the lives of their children while they are in foster care, we create opportunities for decreasing the trauma of separation, for faster routes to permanency, and for healthier children and young people who feel loved and cared for despite the difficult circumstances of their lives.
When we begin seeing parents as partners who care about the well-being of their children instead of pariahs, we can change the dynamic that has historically clouded visitation—now referred to as family time—and change the experience for children and young people in care. Family time can help us get there.
Section: Spotlight on Ensuring Meaningful Family Time
Written by Judge R. Michael Key, Troup County Juvenile Court and Troup County Adult Felony Drug Court, LaGrange, GA
While acknowledging the importance of making individualized decisions in cases where reunification is the permanency goal for a child, the failure to provide meaningful family time between the child and the child's parents, in and of itself, is a failure to make reasonable efforts to reunify. In many jurisdictions, family time will be no more meaningful than the expectations set by the presiding judge. It is important for judges to set clear expectations for family time and to model its importance by allowing sufficient court time to effectively exercise judicial oversight and to promote ownership of family time by all parties and attorneys in each case. Judicial oversight should be exercised to address the necessity for supervision, frequency, duration, and quality.
Presumptive Unsupervised Family Time
Even after appropriate inquiry, supervised family time immediately following removal from the home, and for some time following the preliminary protective hearing, will likely be appropriate in a significant number of cases. However, the presumption should be that unsupervised family time is in the child's best interest, and supervision should be required only if the child welfare agency can establish, by at least a preponderance of the evidence presented in court, that supervised family time is necessary for the protection of the child and that unsupervised family time is not in the child's best interest. The issue of supervision should be considered at the first hearing and at every hearing and review thereafter. Even where supervised family time is initially appropriate, there comes a point when, if the family cannot visit unsupervised, consideration needs to be given as to whether reunification is still an appropriate permanency goal or whether the case plan needs to be revised and additional services should be provided.
Frequency and Duration
Child development experts say that daily contact between a parent and a child should occur to maximize bonding and attachment. Even considering the resource challenges in child welfare, it is not unreasonable for the judge to adopt minimum standards as to the frequency and duration for family time. Georgia's family time practice guide (see this issue's Strategies and Tools for Practice section) makes the following family time recommendation: 1.5 to 2 hours, three times per week, for children from birth to 3 years; 2 or more hours, at least two times per week, for children ages 3 to 12 years; and 1 or more hours, one or two times per week, for children ages 12 to 18 years. While there are certainly factors in individual cases that make the provision of this level of family time difficult, any downward deviation from these recommendations should be limited, supported by evidence, and approved by the judge.
Family time should be as natural and family-like as possible, both in terms of setting and dynamics. It is important for the judge to monitor quality as carefully as frequency and duration. Giving families the very best opportunity to maintain parental relationships contributes to positive outcomes for children removed from their birth families in terms of child well-being and successful and timely reunification.
The narrative changes when family time is viewed through the eyes of the child. Nowhere is that truer than when talking about family time with incarcerated parents. Instead of asking why incarcerated parents should be allowed to visit with their children in foster care, ask why children in foster care should not be allowed to visit with their incarcerated parents. The right to visit is valued more when it is expressed as the child's right. Considering the negative impact even a short-term loss of contact has on children, denying family time because parents are incarcerated inflicts significant trauma on the children and undermines the reunification plan. For an article on family time between children and their incarcerated parents, go to https://georgiacourtsjournal.org/a-very-special-thanksgiving-at-the-troup-county-jail/.
With effective case planning, implementation, and monitoring, the time frames for moving from supervised family time (when required) to unsupervised family time to the transition home should be reasonably predictable within some acceptable range. Hope drives reunification, and it is hard for families to maintain hope when they have to look too far down the line. Hope survives best when gains can be made and celebrated in shorter periods. Milestones can be set so that, if parents work their case plans and make appropriate progress, there is an expectation of moving from supervised visitation to reunification at targeted intervals.
It Takes a Village
As with many other challenges in the child welfare arena, other stakeholders see family time as something for which the child welfare agency is responsible and fail to accept their own legal and ethical responsibilities. Attorneys for parents, attorneys, guardians ad litem for children, and court-appointed special advocates should hold the child welfare agency and the judge accountable for ensuring that children in foster care have meaningful family time with their parents, but they should also be full partners in making that happen. These advocates can sometimes identify nongovernmental resources to allow for more family time and continuously monitor compliance with the family-time plan and milestones.
Can Family Time Be Expanded Today?
The enhanced guidelines remind us to frequently ask what is preventing the child from returning home safely at every hearing and review. It should be the same with family time. Waiting until the next hearing to consider expanding family time delays permanency and prolongs the harm done by separating children from their families.
This article is not intended to be a research-based authoritative work; rather it is intended to spur thoughts and conversations about the role of judges and other stakeholders in ensuring meaningful family time for children in foster care.
For support for the positions contained herein and for guidance on how to implement meaningful family time, see the Georgia Family Time Practice Guide: A Guide to Providing Appropriate Family Time for Children in Foster Care at http://www.gacip.org/family-time-practice-guide/ or contact Judge Michael Key at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Section: Spotlight on Ensuring Meaningful Family Time
Written by Rachael Neff, L.S.W., director of special court programs, Delaware Family Court, and JoAnn Santangelo, court improvement program coordinator, Delaware Family Court
Practice changes can be difficult to make. But with the right team, shared goals, and long-term planning, change can happen. Leadership from key child welfare stakeholders in Delaware decided that improving visitation and family time practices was important to our work with children and families. It has taken years of work, but through thoughtful collaboration we have made changes in our visitation practices that benefit our families.
How Our Work Started
The roundtable discussion at a state team planning meeting in Washington, DC, was one of the first steps that laid the groundwork for improving visitation and family time practices in Delaware. Judges and leadership from the state child welfare agency engaged in frank discussions about areas for strategic improvement in our child welfare work. Informed by data and an assessment of courtroom practice, the team determined that more could be done to ensure that families spent time with one another when children had to be placed in foster care. From this smaller team meeting, a larger multidisciplinary workgroup convened and slow changes began to happen.
Defining Goals and Seeking Support
The court improvement program sought out technical assistance from the Center for Family Representation (CFR) in New York City to support this work. CFR is known for their cornerstone advocacy approach to family representation. It provided strong guidance and acted as a sounding board for Delaware as we determined what steps to take to improve our work. The technical assistance allowed our interdisciplinary team of state agencies, attorneys, providers, and the court to further discuss common goals. We wanted families to visit in more natural and home-like environments and to visit more frequently. We also recognized that more visitation could lead to a greater likelihood of reunification. At the conclusion of one of our technical assistance trainings with CFR, it was determined that creating visit host guidelines would be critical to moving the work forward in Delaware.
Leaders and Messengers
A time-limited workgroup convened and drafted the Delaware visit host guidelines. These guidelines were created to ensure that parents had greater opportunities to visit their children when the children are placed in foster care. Our workgroup emphasized that separating children from parents is a traumatic experience and finding ways to maintain a bond with the child and parent was critical. Visit hosts are individuals who are identified by families to help support their visits without the same level of involvement as an assigned agency worker.
The workgroup succeeded in crafting guidelines tailored to current Delaware visitation policy, and the guidelines were subsequently issued to statewide partners. Completing the visit host guidelines was a paramount step in the work; however, messaging the work was another critical task. Throughout the process, the court improvement program stayed engaged with leadership from the child welfare agency, provider agencies, and others to move the work forward. Without stakeholder engagement, the effort would have failed. A judge needed to be involved so that communication could be brought back to the court. State agency leadership needed to be involved so that communication could make its way throughout the agency. State child welfare agency director Trenee Parker was central to moving the work forward. She ensured her staff understood the importance of visiting. Attorneys for children and parents stayed involved so that questions about the practice could be asked in the courtroom. Parent attorney Stephanie Reid was a leader in the project and has seen the impact of visit hosts firsthand with her clients.
Highlights from her work include the following:
In one recent and ongoing case, a single mother not only hit the ground running on her case plan elements but was able to identify a family friend who was willing and able to serve as a visit host to help increase family time between mother and son. While reunification remains on the near horizon, the infusion of the visit host dynamic has allowed the family to spend meaningful time together that would not have otherwise been possible, including Christmas Day, on the weekends and evenings, and on the child's birthday.
Reid commented, "the concept of visit hosts has been thankfully warmly received in Delaware, and we strive to identify at least one individual per case that could fulfill this vital role. I have found, personally, that cases involving visit hosts carry a different semblance —one of greater collaboration, heightened respect for the parent's role, and reduced (unnecessary) tension and adversity between the parties."
Partners to Pilot the Work
The guidelines were utilized to implement a visit host pilot project in conjunction with two participating foster care provider agencies. The contracted provider agencies engaged families immediately upon the child entering care to determine appropriate visit host opportunities. Although state child welfare stakeholders, including our court, agency, and program providers, had been involved in the visit host pilot, we found that workers with direct contact to the child and family were not as engaged in the concept and that training at all levels was needed.
Training and Ongoing Partnership
In order to address this training gap, a statewide training was held on the impact of visitation on reunification, including a review of the current agency visitation policy and how visit hosts can be incorporated into current practice. The template for this training was drafted with significant support from the Capacity Building Center for Courts in coordination with the court improvement program. Agency and program provider staff were asked to join the training and present their firsthand experience with the visit host process. While research and policy can speak to the why of enhanced visitation practice, those doing the work are the ones who discuss how these practices will be implemented.
Where We Are Now
Several years ago, visitation and family time were not receiving the attention they deserved in Delaware. We now have courtrooms where judges, attorneys, state agency workers, and provider workers talk about the quality and frequency of visitation and how visit hosts positively impact their families. Continuous quality improvement and collaboration were the driving forces to ensure that Delaware was able to incorporate a family-friendly, natural, and flexible visitation practice for children and families into current policy. By identifying our needs, developing a theory of change, implementing change and evaluation, we were able to introduce visit hosts not as a new initiative but another resource for child welfare stakeholders.
There were excellent attorneys, judges, and state agency leadership in Delaware who championed this issue and moved the work forward. Staying engaged in the long run with provider agencies and a dedicated workgroup was also a key to our success. Without these beginning conversations and an openness to try something new, change would have been impossible. Leaders were willing to challenge existing practices and ask where we could improve our work. There is more work to do in Delaware, but our practice shift is well underway to finding ways for families to spend more time together when they must be apart.
Section: Spotlight on Ensuring Meaningful Family Time
Written by Kimberly Giardina, director, County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency Child Welfare Services, and Jorge Cabrera, senior director, San Diego Field Office, Casey Family Programs
Navigating past the toy aisles without a toddler meltdown can be a challenge for any parent shopping at a big-box store. In San Diego County, that trip to the local Walmart can double as a supervised visit with a coach who supports parents in practicing their parenting skills as they work to be reunified with their child.
"We might start at the child welfare office, and then we move to a park or library," explained Phyllis Carlson, a family visit coach with Home Start, one of four community-based organizations that contracts with the County of San Diego to provide family visit coaching (FVC). "Then, we could move from a park to a library to Walmart. The visit coach can work with the parent to figure out how they can go past a toy aisle without temper tantrums or the parent feeling like they have to buy something they can't afford."
Since 2015, the county has offered family visit coaching to families with complex child welfare needs as part of its title IV-E waiver demonstration project. The county was so pleased with the results that it decided to expand FVC countywide, even though its waiver expired in September 2019.
"We were looking at promising practices to implement as our IV-E waiver demonstration," said Laura Krzywicki, chief of agency operations for child welfare services at the county's health and human services agency. "We really wanted to focus on how we can improve our reunification in 12 and 18 months; how do we reunify kids faster?"
The National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) evaluated the San Diego program—the first such evaluation of the visit coaching model developed by child welfare and juvenile justice consultant Marty Beyer—and its effects on family reunification, reunification timeliness, and parenting efficacy.
"This model differs from the traditional supervised-visits approach used by most child welfare agencies in that parents interact with a coach during visits who focuses on the family's strengths and the children's needs," the evaluation explained.
The county hoped to look at its rates of reunification at 18 months, timeliness of reunification, and how often children reentered care.
According to Krzywicki, the county has not had enough time to evaluate whether children's reentry into care has been impacted. However, the NCCD evaluation found that 30 percent of families who were referred to FVC were reunified within 18 months if parents did not participate in the program compared with 47 percent for families with parents who completed the coaching program. Even parents who participated but did not complete the program had a higher reunification rate (32 percent) within 18 months.
The evaluation found that family visit coaching did not speed up the reunification process, but it did show a statistically significant improvement in parenting skills. With family visit coaching, parents meet with a coach before, during, and after supervised visits with their children. Together, they choose where to meet and decide what they want to accomplish.
"With visit coaching, it gives the parents opportunities to visit in a natural setting that's not in a child welfare office," Krzywicki said. "(Coaches) spend a lot of time helping the parent prepare for the trauma-related needs that come from visitation. Traditionally, in supervised visits when there's a removal, when the child first sees the parent, there might be behavioral problems. They might act out. The coach prepares the parents for this and how to respond in a trauma-informed way." After the visit, the coach and parents discuss what went well and what they can do better.
Coaches have a small caseload, which gives them flexibility to meet family needs. They, together with the parents, invest in 1- to 3-hour visits, one to three times a week, for 3 to 6 months.
The county is discussing how to expand the program beyond the 650 children served by the four community-based organizations. With support from Casey Family Programs, the county is consulting with Beyer on next steps. The county is hopeful that family visit coaching, which NCCD calls "promising," will be included as an intervention in the Family First Prevention Services Act Clearinghouse.
One surprising result of the NCCD evaluation was that social workers did not refer families to FVC until much later in their engagement (an average of 7.5 months from removal). As they consider expansion, the county will look at policies and practices that could support earlier referrals, according to Krzywicki.
Carlson, who became a coach in 2018 after retiring as a social worker for child welfare services, sees a distinct difference in her new role.
"I am very much focused on developing a relationship with (parents), helping them develop a trusting relationship with their child, and helping them find ways of being protective," she said. "I have found that through reframing some of the situations they share with us, we can break down some of their barriers/resistance with their social worker and with the system, and this helps propel them toward reunification, ultimately restoring their parental role."
Parents who were interviewed for the NCCD evaluation said they preferred the coaching format. When asked about traditional visitation supervision, one parent said, "Oh, it made me feel uncomfortable. She didn't talk or interact. I didn't know what she thought about how I was doing."
Carlson also sees the impact family visit coaching has on parents. "In the beginning, clients come and they're angry, they feel a little lost, they feel confused about how the system works … and they often don't really understand the connection between the roles they played that led them there and the services that are being provided to them," she said. "As parents move forward with their case, they can't wait to call us with their accomplishments."
Coaches also help families build their own support networks. "By modeling a relationship that is trusting and supportive, they can go out and find relationships that have similar characteristics so they can support themselves," Carlson said.
By offering a more natural setting and working with parents to manage their sadness or anger, coaching makes family time more meaningful, Krzywicki said. "As long as you have kids in out-of-home care, this is a program you could be looking into."
The Administration for Children, Youth and Families recently issued an information memorandum that includes the County of San Diego's approach to family visit coaching, along with research, best practices, resources, and recommendations for providing children and youth in out-of-home care safe, meaningful, and high-frequency family time.
To learn more about family visit coaching, visit www.visitcoachingcommunity.com.
Section: Spotlight on Ensuring Meaningful Family Time
The Administration for Children and Families, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released an Information Memorandum (IM) highlighting the importance of meaningful family time and visitation for children and youth in out-of-home care and their families. The IM provides information on research, best practices, resources, and recommendations for making sure children and youth in out-of-home care have safe, meaningful, and frequent family time that strengthens the family, expedites reunification, and improves parent and child well-being.
The IM discusses family time in general, inadequate family time, how to support strong family time practice, and recommendations. It encourages child welfare agencies, court improvement programs, judges, attorneys, and other stakeholders to work together to ensure families with children in out-of-home care have safe, frequent, and quality family time. In addition, the IM discourages the use of family time as a reward or punishment, which is not only unlawful but can lead to negative outcomes for families and their children in care.
To read the IM, visit https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/im2002.
Section: News From the Children's Bureau
The Division of Family Strengthening (DFS), which is housed within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), released a report, Family Strengthening Research 2018, that describes major OPRE DFS family-strengthening projects.
The report details efforts made in the following areas:
Each section highlights projects and evaluations related to each family-strengthening effort. The section on supporting fatherhood, for example, discusses several projects, including Building Bridges and Bonds, an evaluation study of responsible fatherhood programs that is testing innovative approaches for serving fathers, including cognitive behavioral interventions, play-based parenting, and a smartphone-based mobile application called DadTime. The report also includes links to cross-cutting and other research.
To read the full report, visit https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/family_strengthening_research_oct_2019.pdf (8,700 KB).
Section: News From the Children's Bureau
The Children's Bureau website hosts information on child welfare programs, funding, monitoring, training and technical assistance, laws, statistics, research, federal reporting, and much more.
Recent additions to the site include the following:
Visit the Children's Bureau website often to see what's new.
Section: News From the Children's Bureau
A recent article in Marquette Law Review discusses how children, youth, and families involved with the child welfare system experience the removal process. It also analyzes the gaps and emergent issues in practice, research, and policy related to child removal.
Removing children from their homes is a drastic measure taken to ensure their safety and well-being. Although the decision to remove a child from home is not taken lightly, there are many inconsistencies in the way this is handled and some children are removed unnecessarily, leading to trauma and other adverse experiences. The article seeks to answer the following questions:
According to the article, the process by which children are removed from their homes is inconsistent with the core values of child welfare as well as the legal principles governing child abuse and neglect proceedings. Therefore, there is a need for child welfare professionals to reexamine the values and principles guiding their decisions to remove a child from their parents and place them in out-of-home care.
The article also examines the impact removal can have on children and families and the trauma that can result from being separated from parents, siblings, friends, and communities; presents a legal overview of the removal process and highlights discrepancies; provides an overview of the removal process by examining administrative data; and provides policy and practice recommendations.
Read the article, A Cure Worse Than the Disease? The Impact of Removal on Children and Their Families, at https://repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3055&context=articles (PDF - 1,925 KB).
Section: Child Welfare Research
A recent article, "Evidence Base for Avoiding Family Separation in Child Welfare Practice," focuses on research related to the impact of out-of-home placement and family separation on the well-being of children who have experienced maltreatment.
It isolates the impacts of out-of-home care in terms of criminal behavior outcomes, mental and behavioral health, and physical health as well as whether these impacts vary by race. According to the article, children who were placed in foster care as a result of maltreatment had three times the juvenile delinquency rate and were two to three times more likely to enter the criminal justice system as adults than those who remained at home. Also, children who entered out-of-home care demonstrated a greater increase in problem behaviors from the time they were placed in care to the time of exit compared with the rates of problem behaviors during the same time period for maltreated children who stayed at home. There is also evidence that children who enter care have a 1.5 times higher risk of mortality between the ages of 20 and 56 than those who had experienced maltreatment but remained at home.
Kinship care versus foster care can also impact the well-being of children removed from their homes. According to the article, children placed with relatives experience fewer disruptions and foster care placements as well as fewer emotional, behavioral, and physical impacts than children placed with nonrelative caregivers. Additionally, parents were less likely to appeal an out-of-home placement if their children were placed with relatives, and children were able to spend more time with their parents if they were being cared for by kin.
The authors conclude that out-of-home care can do more harm than good in terms of children's well-being outcomes and that finding alternatives to nonrelative placements can help mitigate the trauma of being placed in foster care.
To read the article, visit https://protect2.fireeye.com/url?k=65d4abfc-3980b280-65d49ac3-0cc47adc5fa2-09cda7b346d2009a&u=https://researchbrief.aliainnovations.org/.
Section: Child Welfare Research
The Court Improvement Initiative of the Georgia Supreme Court's Committee on Justice for Children published a comprehensive, evidence-based guide to family time for children in foster care that emphasizes the need for and benefit of individualized plans. Families spending time together is an important aspect of maintaining familial bonds when children and relatives are apart and reducing the time children and youth spend in out-of-home care.
This guide is an update from a 2004 practice model developed by a visitation protocol workgroup. It outlines core values of family time, including the following:
It also offers suggestions for the frequency and duration of visits according to developmental stages and circumstances and a Family Time Decision Model to be used by child welfare professionals when planning family time.
Read the Georgia Family Time Practice Guide: A Guide to Providing Appropriate Family Time for Children in Foster Care at http://www.gacip.org/family-time-practice-guide/.
Section: Strategies and Tools for Practice
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/.
Section: Strategies and Tools for Practice
Written by the Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for States
Effective family engagement—or the active, ongoing collaboration with families, children, youth, and other stakeholders—is at the heart of child welfare. It is the recognition that families are the experts on their children and are partners in the child welfare process. Agency leaders and program managers strive to continuously improve family engagement skills among their staff and understand that holding families at the center of the work of child welfare is vital.
Results from round 3 of the Child and Family Services Review indicate that family engagement continues to be a challenge for many states and jurisdictions. Coaching in child welfare practice is particularly effective in building skills and mastery for family engagement. The relational nature of coaching, where leaders and team members work together toward improvement, can serve as a model for staff looking to build stronger relationships with families.
Characteristics of Coaching
The Coaching Toolkit for Child Welfare Practice defines coaching as "a process by which the coach creates structured, focused interaction with learners and uses appropriate strategies, tools, and techniques to promote desirable and sustainable change for the benefit of the learner, making a positive impact on the organization" (Northern California Training Academy, 2012, p. 4).
Effective coaching is a both an art and a science. Whether coaches are supervisors, outside consultants, peers, or others, there are common characteristics of coaching (Capacity Building Center for States, 2016):
Strategies for Coaching to Improve Family Engagement
While coaching is tailored to the specific needs of the learner, there are cross-cutting strategies that are useful in improving family engagement in any coaching partnership.
Once learners understand more about their biases, they can develop strategies, skills, and tools for dealing with them when they emerge.
Coaching is a valuable tool for building staff competence and confidence to engage families effectively.
By asking purposeful questions and using other strategies that promote self-reflection and learning, coaches can help child welfare staff overcome challenges, identify solutions, strengthen their relationships with families, and make progress toward goals.
Capacity Building Center for States. (2016). Coaching in child welfare. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/36ZQP9n.
Northern California Training Academy. (2012). Coaching toolkit for child welfare practice. Retrieved from https://ncwwi.org/files/Mentoring_and_Coaching/The_Coaching_Toolkit_for_Child_Welfare_Practice.pdf.
Resources to Learn More About Coaching
Section: Strategies and Tools for Practice
Visits with family can be stressful for children and teens in out-of-home care, and so HealthyChildren.org released a set of tips to help prepare them for visits and family time. Preparing children and teens for these visits can help mitigate some of the stress associated them. Foster parents and kinship caregivers can help by insisting that visits be scheduled around the child's schedules so as not to disrupt their routine or education; suggesting that the child be picked up from and returned to the foster home, if possible; helping the child decide on something to bring, such as a stuffed animal or favorite blanket, and what to wear to the visit; sending a healthy snack with the child; helping the child draw a picture or make something to give their parent as a gift at the visit; reminding the child that they will be there to welcome them when they return after the visit; and transporting the child to the visit, when possible.
Children can also experience stress after the visit for various reasons, such as the child not getting sufficient attention from the parent because the visit was chaotic or multiple siblings were present, the parent displays rejecting behaviors or a lack of warmth toward the child, or the parent is not sufficiently attentive because of their own mental health or other problems. Foster parents and kinship caregivers can help relieve this stress by picking the child up from the visits or being there to welcome them back home and interacting calmly with the parent in front of the child.
The full list of tips is available at https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/adoption-and-foster-care/Pages/Tips-for-Helping-Children-and-Teens-Before-and-After-Visitation.aspx.
A child who is removed from his or her family can experience attachment issues stemming from the separation. Advokids has a webpage that provides a summary of visitation guidelines meant to help ease the trauma and stress of separation and preserve attachments that are crucial for a child's emotional and cognitive development. The resource discusses the importance of visitation and provides guidelines for judges and attorneys and for social workers and other practitioners.
Visitation planning is an ongoing process that should correspond with the child's placement phase in the child welfare system. There are three phases to visitation planning:
Guidelines for visitation with infants and toddlers center on the importance of developing attachments to their parents and strengthening the parent-child relationship. Judges and attorneys should work to ensure face-to-face contact between children and their parents no more than 5 days after placement; establish weekly visits with parents and monthly visits with siblings; arrange other methods of contact, including phone calls, letters, emails, and text messages; and create a court order or visitation document that can be given to everyone involved in the visitation that specifies times, duration, location, and level of supervision. Social workers and other practitioners should have a written visitation plan, make visits a normal part of life, and have the visits occur at a consistent date, time, and place, whenever possible. The webpage also provides guidelines for social workers and practitioners based on the child's time in care and their permanency goals.
The resource also provides applicable statutes, rules, and case law.
It is available at https://www.advokids.org/childhood-mental-health/visitation/.
The Bavolek Nurturing Parenting Program is a nationally recognized, evidence-based program designed to help prevent and treat child abuse and neglect for families with children in out-of-home care. The program is a family-centered and age-specific education approach that helps families build protective factors to increase the health and well-being of their members.
Nurturing Parenting is taught in 12 weekly in-home sessions. During each session, participants learn new skills that they can apply during supervised visits with their children in foster care. Foster care workers are kept abreast of the family's progress toward their goals on a weekly basis.
This program is intended for parents with children in care who are ready to learn how to improve their parenting. Participants must have children currently placed in foster care and be referred for this service by their foster care worker. The program includes a pre- and postassessment.
To learn more about the Foster Care Supportive Visitation In-Home Parent Education Program, visit https://dabsj.org/what-we-do/foster-care/foster-care-supportive-visitation.
Section: Training and Conferences
Upcoming conferences and events on child welfare and adoption include the following:
Section: Training and Conferences
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