Despite Federal Guidance, Some States Bar In-Person Foster Care Visits

By: - May 12, 2020 12:00 am

A young mother plays with her 3-year-old daughter while visiting her at the home she’s staying at with her grandmother in Jasper, Georgia. Across the United States, the opioid epidemic is fueling a surge of children being taken into foster care. Some states have started passing laws making it easier for parents to have their parental rights reinstated after they’ve been terminated. David Goldman/The Associated Press

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Citing virus fears, some states have barred biological parents from visiting their children in foster care. This despite federal recommendations that child welfare agencies “refrain from issuing blanket court orders reducing or suspending family time.”

Last week, Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli announced on Twitter that she is suing the state of Illinois for its visitation ban. The majority of those affected by the ban are “black poor families who are suffering,” she wrote.

The suit is intended to force officials at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services “to remove their blanket suspension of our clients visits w/their children, w/no thought to the tragic results on families, siblings, and our communities,” Campanelli wrote.

The agency did not respond to a Stateline request for comment.

Most foster children are in the child welfare system because of poverty-related neglect, rather than physical or sexual abuse, according to a 2019 report by Child Trends, a Maryland-based research organization that focuses on child welfare issues. Child welfare experts say visits help parents maintain bonds with their children as they work toward reunifying with them.

In March, Jerry Milner, associate commissioner of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, issued guidance that “strongly discourages” blanket orders suspending all in-person visits. He warned that doing so “may contribute to additional child trauma, and may impede the likelihood of reunification.” Milner wrote that child welfare officials should find ways to conduct in-person visits safely.

But some states, including Hawaii, Illinois and Washington, have barred in-person visits. Washington state stopped in-person visits in March after foster parents, fearful of exposure, circulated a petition pressuring the state to suspend visits. The ban is still in effect. 

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Teresa Wiltz

Teresa Wiltz covers welfare, housing and social services for Stateline. Previously, she worked for the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.