Visitation in the Time of COVID-19


DCF should declare that in-person family time resume in an expedited manner along with providing additional family time to mitigate trauma experienced from the period of suspended visits.


In-person family visits for children in out-of-home placements are crucial steps on the path to family reunification. Even more importantly, these visits are essential to children's health and wellbeing. Children in out-of-home placements yearn for contact with their parents; even if only to know that they are okay. When family visits do not take place, children suffer from unjustifiable trauma and intensified anxiety. (See Trauma Caused by Separation of Children from Parents: A Tool to Help Lawyers on the ABA website)

In March 2020, the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) suspended all in-person visits between parents and children in foster care. This decision to ban in-person family visits was made despite federal guidance encouraging child welfare agencies to recognize the critical need for family visits in a time of crisis, and be aware that pausing family visits can be traumatic for children. (See 3/27/20 Letter from the Federal Children's Bureau). While DCF's intention was to protect the health of children, parents, resource families, and the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) and service provider staff, it has caused irreparable trauma to children and families. Without knowing if their children are safe, parents live in a state of constant anxiety. Without being able to see their parents, children remain unable to heal from the trauma of separation. Furthermore, given that New Jersey has a significant overrepresentation of Black/African-American children in the foster care system, the ban on in-person visitation has disproportionately traumatized Black/African-American families and communities.

On July 8, 2020, DCF issued guidance to resume in-person visitation on a case-by-case basis. This policy is short of addressing the trauma caused by the three-month moratorium on in-person family visits. DCF does not call for automatic continuation of all in-person family visits, leaving DCPP the discretion to decide in which cases-in-person visitation should resume and in which cases it should not. It fails to acknowledge that the cessation of in-person visitation has been traumatic for children and families in New Jersey and that children's wellbeing depends on being able to see their families.

It is unreasonable to move forward without recognizing the unnecessary trauma caused to children in out-of-home placements as a result of DCF's three-month suspension of in-person visitation. A prompt resumption of in-person family visits should be a priority. Following relevant guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New Jersey Department of Health, DCF should declare that in-person family time resume in an expedited manner. Moreover, DCF staffing or transportation limitations should not delay in-person visitation any further. DCF should also consider issuing the following guidance to all caseworkers:

  • Additional in-person family time to make up for the gap in in-person visitation from March 2020 to July 2020;
  • Additional time and access to therapeutic services for parents and children to remedy the trauma that has developed from the three-month gap in in-person visitation;
  • Daily phone contact between parents and children in out-of-home placements through platforms such as FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, etc. to address heightened anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Resource parents may also obtain a free Google Voice phone number to dedicate to calls with parents.)

DCF must protect children and families in the uncertain time of COVID-19. While this responsibility undeniably includes protecting their health, it also means promoting their mental and emotional wellbeing, to which consistent in-person family time is critical. 

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