Gtgt NARRATOR In many child welfare cases, the removal of a child from their home marks the first time the child has ever been away from one or both parents. Whatever the reason for the removal, it is a traumatic event for the child and the parents. A child who is placed in foster care fears the unknown and may feel abandoned, scared, and hopeless. The parents also can be traumatized. They may worry about where their child is, who is taking care of her, whether her special needs are being met. One of the best ways.
To minimize the effects of traumatic separation and help families stay connected is to provide for frequent, regular contact between these children and their families. The question of how visitation should occur has been part of the national and state dialogue for many years, and needs to be continually reassessed if we are to hold safe and lasting reunification as the ideal goal. gtgt COOGAN Visitation in New Jersey has been defined under regulation for a significant period of time. In the 80s, New jersey was one of a handful of states that placed children through a voluntary placement agreement. By that, I mean there.
Was an agreement that the parent signed in consultation with the division in which they are agreeing to put their child into foster care, they are agreeing to comply with a service agreement, the Division is agreeing to provide services to address whatever problem that they identified for the family, and one of the things the parent acknowledged in that agreement was their right and their responsibility to maintain contact with the Division and to visit their child on a regular basis. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, or ASFA, was incorporated into New Jersey law in 1999. The purpose of that law was to.
Visitation An Indispensable Tool for Reunification
Shorten the time that children live in foster care, it being deemed inappropriate for children to just linger indefinitely in foster care. One of the things that the law defined was what constitutes the reasonable efforts that the Division must exercise to effectuate a reunification between a parent and a child who’s living in foster care. And facilitating appropriate visitation was actually placed in the law as a requirement of reasonable efforts. gtgt COSTA In New Jersey when children are in placement and visits are arranged, parenting time is arranged, with their birth families, it’s been my experience that the initial visit.
Can often occur days after the removal contributing to some real difficulty on the part of the child and the birth family, as well as the resource family. And that visits from that point on, regardless of age, occur twice a week or once a week for about an hour and a half. And I think that’s not a great model for infants and children. Imagine how that visit happens. Imagine the actual operation of it. A child is picked up by an unfamiliar person, taken from a caregiver whom he’s come to.
Know, placed in an unfamiliar car and unfamiliar car seat. And those are factors. Texture, smell, touch, those are all powerful emotional and sensory experiences in children. Then they’re brought to an unfamiliar place, where they have this time to see and witness touch and smell and taste and see their mother. And that doesn’t go well, as I said earlier. Sometimes the initial reunions. And then the child is distraught. After an hour, hour and a half, they settle in. But then another person removes the child from that.
Setting, with another car and another car seat and returns that child back to the foster family, or wherever the child has been. And the postvisitation report is such that the child cried and wet himself and regressed and didn’t sleep. And somewhere along the way, someone will erroneously draw the conclusion that visitations aren’t helping. And I think that’s absolutely not the case. It’s how the visitations occur. If a securely attached child were removed from a securely attached parent and went through that same thing, a child and a family without any protective child service concerns, the same thing would.
Happen. So, um, I think from my perspective, visitation is a critical factor in our child protective service system. If not done well, it will actually militate against the very goals that the child protective services has for this child and family. gtgt MCCARTHY Most visits start out in a visiting room at a child welfare agency. Um, just coming into the building is a reminder that you had your kids taken. That the people in that building um, think you’re a bad parent. Not just a bad parent, like, so bad a parent that you.
Don’t get to be a parent, which, um, is a pretty stark thing to for someone else to say, right And to feel about themselves. And no matter how tough a parent is acting, the uh, the experience of having your child taken is deeply shameful. It’s just a terrible feeling. The same stereotypes that society has about people who have their kids removed are the same feelings that parents who have their kids removed feel about themselves. They don’t maybe show it, they may seem defiant, or they may say I’m not that, but.
Inside they’re wondering, am I that gtgt APRILLE I grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey. I was kind of in an abusive relationship. I kind of didn’t have a lot of the support I needed over the course of when I had my children. So it was really hard for me. You know, it wasn’t the cleanest house, and things were falling apart on top of it, so, um, any time anything happened, I would probablyMost of the time I would get into fights with my arguments with my husband,.
Like I said, he was abusive, so if the police got involved, then they would always, you know, decide, Oh, this is not a place for children to live. This is not where they should be, they shouldn’t live like this. So, that’s how the Division got involved. It was very difficult to have visitations at first at Babyland because it was timed. gtgt STECKLER I knew Aprille’s oldest son, my son is the same age as Aprille’s son, and was in the same class in fifth grade, um. When Aprille’s family started to have.
Difficulty, I received a phone call from a friend of mine that said, you know, Aprille needs help. Can you help her gtgt APRILLE Tami Steckler and her family opened up their homes toto my children and she took very good care of them. gtgt STECKLER What we tried to do was just set up an environment where she could spend time with her children without much interference from us. We certainly stayed in the background, we made sure they had everything available to them to have a great visitation. gtgt APRILLE We did a lot of things, like we cooked and we went to a lot of softball games.
And just a lot of family outings. So it really helped to just keep the children stable, to make them feel like things were gonna be normal, things were gonna be okay. gtgt LAVER Around the country, I think more and more jurisdictions are understanding the research that has been coming out that shows that visitation is the key link towards a successful and safe reunification. There are a number of barriers that jurisdictions express and they’re all legitimate barriers. This is for many places, a system with a lot of children and a lot of families to juggle and figure out timing. But there are barriers,.
Such as where to do the visits, how to get the children and the parents. If they’re in a rural area without a lot of public transportation, it’s very difficult to get both sets of people to the same location. But it’s an important step that I think some jurisdictions are modeling. gtgt COSTA There are a number of wonderful visitation models that can provide support for birth families and foster families around visitation. One of them, developed by Dr. Marty Byer, is called visit coaching. gtgt MCCARTHY In visit coaching, what’s so remarkable is it’s strengthbased. it promotes.
The relationship between the birth family and the resource family. And it actually suggests that the visits should involve those experiences around which parenting has been difficult. The coaching is around asking what do you want to do, what do you want to work on, how we going to do this. In how they handle discipline, or how they handle feelings like, when you go to the store with your child, and your child asking and asking for all these things you know, that’s a normal thing that happens with all parents. But if you are so full of.
Guilt, because you’ve been separated from your child, maybe you weren’t, things weren’t going so well at home before the child went into foster care. And you feel so precarious about your child’s love, then little things like being in a store and having to say no, you can’t have that, no, you can’t have that, no, we’re not buying that, no we’re not doing that. That can just feel really overwhelming. I think those are, um, that’s kind of the role of a visit host or a visit coach in some ways. To get you used to real.
Parenting when you’re out and about, and having to deal with life. gtgt STECKLER I think it’s pretty simple. I mean I think I’m in my profession as a child advocate because I really care about how children are raised, and that they have good, supportive homes and families. And to have hard fast rules all the time about how these visits occur, when they occur, who can supervise them, I don’t think it benefits children or families, and I don’t think it’s geared towards reunification at all. I don’t think you can see your children an hour a week and think that’s geared toward.
Reunification. gtgt MCCARTHY The ideal visit would be something that feels as close to what the parent and her child are already doing. The things that they already like to do together. And the things they already find fun and enjoyable. Every family has some repertoire of what makes them feel good together, and that’s different for different people. gtgt APRILLE My children are very musical. My son has played in lots of talent shows and gotten scholarships for camp because, um, he, I don’t know, he’s just a really good piano player. My daughter loves to play the guitar. The other three children love.
To sing and dance. They like to make up tutorials and do a lot of little musical things together. gtgt STECKLER sitting at the dining room table with them or watching a movie in the evening with them with popcorn, you get to see just how bonded these children are to their parents, and just how welladjusted they are when they’re with their parents. gtgt MCCARTHY We’ve started to think about parenting as thisskill. And the, the bad part to me there is that um, maybe another person would have this skill better than I.