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COVID-19, Foster Care and Visitation

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Since March of this year New York has been in various stages of lock-down or has imposed other restrictions on the population’s everyday life. As everyone has experienced, this has had an effect on business as well as government offices. One area that has been greatly affected is the foster care system. From Court closures and back logs to restrictions on visitation, schooling and recreational activities, children in foster care and their families have faced a number of challenges.

This article will focus on the effects on visitation for children in foster care with their parents. Under normal circumstances the Department of Social Services, or the agency that is responsible for foster care, is required to provide as much face-to-face visitation between child and parent that is considered reasonable and safe. But the upswing in cases of Covid-19 this past month or two has required Departments to impose further restrictions on visitation, and in most instances limiting visitation to phone calls and video chats only. These limitations to one-on-one access can pose a great hurdle to reunification of the family and imposes a hardship on parent and child alike.

Again, under normal circumstances the Courts would be able to step in and order visitation if it is being wrongfully denied by an agency. However during the pandemic, access to the Courts has been limited. If a parent believes that they are being unnecessarily deprived of visitation with their child(ren), they should first reach out to the caseworker assigned to the foster care case and attempt to work out a visitation schedule. If, for legitimate reasons in person visitation is not being allowed, the agency should be making arrangements to ensure that liberal phone and video visitation is scheduled and made available. If the parent is still not able to have meaningful contact with their child(ren), they may need to file a petition with the Court seeking a court order for a specific schedule and method for visitation. Historically, a Court would order a schedule of visitation as it deems proper, but with the pandemic, many Courts have been hesitant to order in person visits. Despite the Covid climate, it is still worthwhile to seek Court intervention. A Court may be willing to issue a specific order, and even if it declines, the parent has made a record that s/he is being deprived of meaningful visitation, which impacts reunification with their child(ren). This is important as, despite the pandemic, the mandates relating to legal timeframes for the County to file  a permanent neglect petition concerning children in Foster Care have not been changed, and a parent needs to be proactive to protect his/her rights.

If you or a family member is faced with unfair and unwarranted restrictions on visitation with children in foster care, the team at Tully Rinckey can help you file a well-prepared petition with the Court that has the best chance of success. Our team of family and matrimonial law attorneys have decades of experience helping families navigate intricate family and matrimonial legal matters. No matter the current events, our attorneys are ready to handle your legal representation with sensitivity and care.  To schedule an initial consultation, contact us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at (888) 529-4543 or info@tullylegal.com

Christian J. Root is a Partner in Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Binghamton office, where he is a member of the Firm’s Family and Matrimonial Law practice group. 

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