The single greatest factor affecting family reunification is the frequency of contact between parents and children. Planning and making successful family visits happen are difficult teamwork tasks for resource parents and child welfare specialists, but research has repeatedly confirmed that family visitation is the key. Although complicated arrangements and emotions do not make visits easy, the results speak for the value of family visiting.

Why Visits Work

When a child is removed from home, both the parents and the child may feel like failures. Parents frequently feel inadequate and children may feel that somehow the breakup of the family is their fault. When someone from outside the family removes the child, there is trauma and a feeling of loss of control. Visits help to heal the feelings of failure and inadequacy and lay the groundwork for building a better parent/child relationship.

Dealing with Expectations and Emotions

Even though everyone wants to visit, all parties involved in the visit have different expectations. Balancing feelings and expectations involved in visitation is difficult for everyone, including child welfare specialists and resource parents.

Children want to visit family to:

  • Be reassured they are still loved and lovable
  • Be reassured that the parents, siblings, and extended family are OK
  • Receive permission from the parents to be happy where he or she is living until returning home is possible
  • Ease the pain of separation, loss, and grief

Parents want to visit children to:

  • Be reassured that the child is being cared for
  • Reassert their commitment to the child
  • Be reassured that the child has not forgotten them
  • Be informed about the child’s growth and development Become better at parenting

Resource parents attending visits expect to:

  • Keep in touch with changes in the family that may impact the permanency plan Learn more about the child’s relationship with his or her parents
  • Understand the child better
  • Provide support to the child in his or her effort to cope and understand the situation

Child Welfare Specialists take primary responsibility for the visits by:

  • Actively engaging the parents in setting up a visitation plan
  • Consulting the resource parents, and sometimes the child, in accordance with DHS rules and the individualized service plan
  • Developing goals for the visits to enhance their impact on progress toward permanency plans Supervising the visit or making arrangements for other supervision if necessary
  • Recording clinical observations during the visit of parent/child interaction or other significant factors Reporting the nature/successfulness of the visits to the juvenile court

If the visitation plan or the actual visit doesn’t satisfy everyone’s hopes and expectations, they are likely to respond negatively. The child welfare specialist will need to deal with everyone’s emotions, and the resource parent may be left with a very disappointed, sad or angry child acting out his or her feelings. Although this may be stressful, remember that even if the results of a visit do not seem positive at the moment, every visit is a positive step toward the child reaching a permanent family.

Frequency, Length, Supervision and Location of Visits

Visitation begins no later than one week following the child’s removal from home and a visitation schedule that considers the child’s needs is developed and includes more than one time per month visitation thereafter until the child is returned or the permanency plan is no longer reunification. Visits become more frequent and longer and have less supervision as the child’s parents correct the conditions of intervention. Exceptions are made when the parents fail to cooperate with visitation arrangements, when the court orders no visitation, if the whereabouts of the parents are unknown, or visitation, even supervised, endangers or subjects the child to damaging psychological/emotional stress.

Early in a case, visits may require supervision by the child welfare specialist, and when necessary, may be held in a neutral environment such as the DHS office. Supervised visits give the specialist an opportunity to make clinical observations which may prove useful to making decisions about services and permanency recommendations.

As soon as safety/progress permits, visits may be moved to locations more conducive to parent-child interaction, such as parks, restaurants and shopping malls. As the parents progress in eliminating risk factors, the frequency and length of visits increases and the location moves to the resource parents’ or parents’ home, as appropriate.

Visitation Plan

A visitation plan is designed jointly by the family, the resource parent and the child welfare specialist. The plan and schedule provide security for the parent-child interaction and allow parents a reliable routine for practicing new parenting and relationship skills. The schedule should address frequency, length, location and any other relevant circumstances specific to the case. The visitation plan is signed by the family, the resource parent, the child welfare specialist, and, if appropriate, the child.

Sibling Visits

All efforts are made to place sibling groups together in both temporary and permanent placements. When this is not possible, siblings need to have frequent contact with each other. Resource parents should expect to work with the Specialist and other resource parents where siblings are placed to develop a sibling visitation plan, with input from the children if age-appropriate.

Other Relatives and Important Persons

In addition to parents and siblings, grandparents, teachers, ministers, extended family members, and others all play crucial roles in a child’s development. When relatives or other people important in the child’s life request visitation, the child welfare specialist facilitates this kind of contact with the resource parent’s assistance. In planning such contact the specialist considers the wishes of the parents, the wishes of the child, the permanency plan and the directives from the court.

Mail and Phone Contact

DHS encourages contact by children in out-of-home placements with their parents, extended family, and friends through phone calls and letters. Mail, including email, and phone calls are not monitored or restricted unless necessary for the child’s protection.

Overnight Visitation with Friends

Children in out-of-home placements may have overnight stays with friends whom the resource parents
know and approve. Resource parents use the same discretion about such arrangements as with their own children, balancing the normal social experiences of childhood with care to assure that informal social occasions or overnight visitation with friends do not jeopardize the safety and well-being of the child.

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