When a child is removed from his or her parents, concerns arise for the child’s present and future development. These concerns are not based on biology – they are based on attachment. As discussed in our pages on Attachment and Transitions, removal causes trauma and can impair emotional and cognitive development. These same concerns apply when a child is removed from a substitute caregiver with whom the he or she has developed an emotionally significant connection; perhaps more so because trauma is cumulative and the child has already been traumatized by the initial removal from the biological parent. These visitation guidelines are meant to help ease the trauma and stress of separation and preserve those attachments that are crucial for a child’s emotional and cognitive development.
“In many child welfare cases, the removal of a child from parental custody marks the first time the child has ever been out of the care of 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, helpless, and hopeless. She may worry about her family, imagining that her parents have died or are looking for and cannot find her. She may feel guilty for whatever has happened to her parents. The trauma of separation is potentially overwhelming to children. They may become despondent and depressed. They are often angry. The trauma can be increased when they are separated from both their parents and their siblings. These observations are true even in many cases of serious abuse and cases in which the child expresses fear of a parent or a reluctance to visit. In these situations the child will often express a wish to return home after a short period in out-of-home placement.
The parents also can be traumatized. They may worry about where their child is, who is taking care of her, whether her special needs (medicines, diet, clothing – all the things parents worry about) are being addressed and by whom. They may also feel both jealousy and fear regarding the new placement. They may be jealous because another family has taken over their parenting duties, and they may fear that the child will prefer the new surroundings and the new family to their own. They may also be overwhelmed with guilt and shame for what has taken place.
Separation in these circumstances can affect the connections that a child has formed with her parents, siblings, and family members. Depending on the age of the child, the separation can damage relationships and have long-term implications for a child’s ability to form new attachments and relationships. Connectedness is necessary for healthy child development. “One of the things that we know is that for a child to develop normally, he or she must have a continuing stable human relationship, that this child must be attached to at least one nurturing adult – somebody that he or she can count on for life, even when the child becomes an adult.” This connectedness must be protected and should be severed only in extreme circumstances and with extraordinary care…
These child development principles are known to the juvenile court and members of the child protection system. Unfortunately, some children have to be removed from their parents’ care for their safety. In these situations, it is crucial to their development to find ways to minimize the trauma and grief caused by the severing of connections caused by the forced separation. This can be accomplished by protecting those connections whenever possible and by providing support for reconnection to other adults when necessary. One of the best ways to minimize the effects of traumatic separation is to provide for frequent, regular contact between these children and their families.”
Edwards, Judicial Oversight of Parental Visitation in Family Reunification Cases, Juvenile and Family Court Journal, Summer 2003, pp. 2-3.
“The younger the child and the longer the period of uncertainty and separation from the primary caregiver, the greater the risk of harm to the child. Therefore, frequent, meaningful parent-child visits are critical for infants and toddlers in foster care…
During the first few months of life, babies begin to show a marked preference for one or two primary caregivers. By about four months, babies communicate this preference through their behaviors (e.g., following with the eyes, smiling, quieting more easily) in the presence of the familiar caregiver. As babies get older (age 7 to 14 months), the attachment intensifies, and they often cry or protest when separated from the primary attachment figure…
To promote attachment and strengthen the parent-child relationship, very young children in foster care need frequent and consistent contact with their parents. They need to know that their parent cares for and is there for them. In many jurisdictions, visits consist of brief, weekly encounters, in a neutral setting, under the supervision of a caseworker. . . . For younger children, this type of visit is not conducive to optimal parent child interaction and may minimally serve the parents’ needs for ongoing contact with the child or may even be harmful for the child. A young child’s trust, love, and identification are based on uninterrupted, day-to-day relationships. Weekly or other sporadic “visits” stretch the bounds of a young child’s sense of time and do not allow for a psychologically meaningful relationship with estranged biological parents. For parent-child visits to be beneficial, they should be frequent and long enough to enhance the parent-child relationship…
Visitation plays an important role in concurrent planning. While frequent visits allow parents to show their motivation for getting their child back and demonstrate new skills, they also provide evidence when a parent is not making progress toward case goals. For example, when a parent repeatedly does not show up for scheduled visits or fails to make required behavioral changes during visits, this information can help the court decide more quickly to order an alternative permanency plan for the child…
Visitation planning is an ongoing process that should correspond to the child’s placement phase in the child welfare system. Although the underlying goal of visitation (to preserve and enhance the parent-child relationship while providing for the safety and well-being of the child) remains the same through all phases, each phase emphasizes different purposes and uses different visitation arrangements.
Smariga, Visitation with Infants and Toddlers in Foster Care: What Judges and Attorneys Need to Know (July 2007), ABA Center on Children and the Law Practice and Policy Brief, pp. 1, 3, 5, 7, 10-11.
Contact between children and family:
Immediate and frequent contact between the child and parent(s) helps maintain the child’s identity and reduces trauma. It also influences future safety decision-making. Visitation is less helpful to future safety decisions when it is identical in every case, such as:
Visitation should, at minimum, include:
Determining Visitation: Checklist for Judges
Lund and Renee, Child Safety: A Guide for Judges and Attorneys, American Bar Association and ACTION for Child Protection (2009), Chapter 7, p. 33-34.
Best Practice Expectation for Visitations:
Guidelines to Visitation based on the child’s time in care and his/her permanent plan:
Initial Placement Phase
From the time of placement through the first court hearing (no later than 1 month in care)
Reasonable Efforts Phase
One month to 12 months in care (during the time that both family reunification and an alternative permanent plan are being worked on concurrently.)
Final Permanency Decision Phase
As soon as the social worker, case planning team and/or the court are ready to make a final permanency decision.
(The law states this should occur no later than 15 months in care.) This phase can begin as early as the first month for Fast Track to Permanency cases.
When the permanent plan is reunification:
When the permanent plan is adoption or guardianship:
When the permanent plan is not completed before a child becomes 18 years old:
When a child/youth grows up in foster care without reunification, adoption or guardianship otherwise known as long term foster care.
Post Permanency Phase
After reunification, adoption or guardianship decisions are made. This phase can continue even after the agency has closed the case.
Wentz, Visitation – The Key to Children’s Safety, Permanency and Well-Being, Nat’l Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning at the Hunter College School of Social Work, pp. 6, 15-17 (based in part on work from Hess, Family Visiting In Out-of-Home Care: A Guide to Practice). Also, Wentz, Parent/Child Visits and Maintaining Connection. Ref: California Child Welfare Council booklet, Building a System of Support for Young Children in Foster Care
“(a) In order to maintain ties between the parent or guardian and any siblings and the child, and to provide information relevant to deciding if, and when, to return a child to the custody of his or her parent or guardian, or to encourage or suspend sibling interaction, any order placing a child in foster care, and ordering reunification services shall provide as follows:
(b) When reunification services are not ordered pursuant to Section 361.5, the child’s plan for legal permanency shall include consideration of the existence of and the relationship with any sibling pursuant to Section 16002.
(c) As used in this section, “sibling” means a child related to another person by blood, adoption, or affinity through a common legal or biological parent.”
Welfare & Inst Code §362.1 (Visitation)
“If the parent or guardian is incarcerated or institutionalized, the court shall order reasonable services unless the court determines, by clear and convincing evidence those services would be detrimental to the child. In determining detriment, the court shall consider the age of the child, the degree of parent-child bonding, the length of the sentence, the length and nature of the treatment, the nature of the crime or illness, the degree of detriment to the child if services are not offered and, for children 10 years of age or older, the child’s attitude toward the implementation of reunification services, the likelihood of the parent’s discharge from incarceration or institutionalization within the reunification time limits . . . and any other appropriate factors. In determining the content of reasonable services, the court shall consider the particular barriers to an incarcerated or otherwise institutionalized parent’s access to those court-mandated services and ability to maintain contact with his or her child, and shall document this information in the child’s case plan. Reunification services are subject to the applicable time limitations imposed in subdivision (a). Services may include . . . :
(C) Visitation services, where appropriate.”
“If the court . . . does not order reunification services . . . . The court may continue to permit the parent to visit the child unless it finds that visitation would be detrimental to the child.”
“(A) If the court finds that adoption of the child or termination of parental rights is not in the best interest of the child. . . .
(C) The court shall also make an order for visitation with the parents or guardians unless the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the visitation would be detrimental to the physical or emotional well-being of the child.”
“The court must consider the issue of visitation between the child and other persons,
including siblings, determine if contact pending the jurisdiction hearing would be beneficial or detrimental to the child, and make appropriate orders.”
Cal Rules of Court, Rule 5.670(g): Visitation
Requirements upon setting a section 366.26 hearing: “The Court must continue to permit the parent or legal guardian to visit the child, unless it finds that visitation would be detrimental to the child.”
In re Shawna M. (1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 1686, 1690.
An order for visitation as “approved by” the department was an improper delegation of the court’s authority.
In re Precious J. (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 1463, 1476.
Incarceration of a parent is not a valid reason for denying visitation.
In re Julie M. (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 41, 81.
Visitation is absolutely required as part of any reunification plan. The court’s order giving the children discretion to decide whether mother could visit them was invalid.
In re Nicholas B. (2001) 88 Cal.pp.4th 1126,1138.
The suspension of visitation was unwarranted and demonstrated inadequate reunification services. The court’s order failed to mandate visitation as a necessary part of reunification services and gave too much discretion to the child’s therapist. Also, because visitation for parents can also serve as a means of maintaining a relationship when reunification is not possible or not achieved, and may then provide the basis for an exception to termination of parental rights, it is improper to suspend or halt visits even after the end of the reunification period.
In re Alvin R., Jr. (2003) 108 Cal.App.4th 962, 972.
“Visitation is an essential component of any reunification plan.”
In re S.H. (2003) 111 Cal.App. 4th 310, 317.
“Visitation is a necessary and integral components of any reunification plan.” The court’s order allowing the children to refuse visits was invalid. Visitation must take place even if the child does not want to visit.
In re M.R. (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 206.
The court may delegate to the child’s legal guardian the authority to set time, place, and manner of visitation with the parent.
In re J.N. (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 450.
When no reunification services are offered, the court is not required to make a finding of detriment to the child in order deny visitation. However, the court must deny visitation if it finds that visitation would be detrimental.
In re Hunter S. (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th 1497, 1505.
When the child is living with a foster parent or relative in a long term arrangement the court must retain authority over the orders as to visitation.
In re C.C. (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 1481, 1492.
Parental visitation is mandatory unless there exists substantial evidence of a threat to the child’s safety. Suspension of visitation based upon a finding of detriment to a child’s overall well-being is not permitted.
In re Rebecca S. (2010) 181 Cal.App.4th 1310.
The court cannot leave to the discretion of the legal guardian whether parental visits actually occur.
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