Reuniting Families During a Global Pandemic

Monday, June 29th, 2020

June is Reunification Month: a celebration of children in foster care returning home and reuniting with their loved ones.

But for thousands of children and families currently separated through foster care, it has been devastating to be forced to stay apart during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some families who were on track to be reunified are now forced to wait to reunite.

Families should not be penalized for being unable to comply with certain reunification requirements, and children should not be kept from deserving parents as a result of the pandemic. These parents and children face life-changing consequences — and perhaps permanent separation — as a result.

Our child welfare system should work together during this pandemic to reunify families that have proven ready and capable. Where reunification efforts have already been largely complied with, joint orders should be presented requesting expedited reunification so that these families are not separated for longer than is necessary.

In other states such as Iowa, the Department of Human Services, the State Public Defender’s Office, and Juvenile Court Services have followed federal guidance from the Children’s Bureau to not only expedite reunification, but to approach case timelines with more leniency. Together, these agencies have created an order to serve as a guideline to judges, outlining family reunification and allowing individualized determinations. The order further emphasizes the necessity of considering each matter on a case-by-case basis for determining how best to move forward with face-to-face or virtual visitations, compliance with reunification efforts, and alternatives to current services and resources being offered to parents and children.

Using these guidelines as reference, Virginia courts should follow suit. Families working toward the return of their children are  trying to succeed with limited resources in a challenging time — there’s no need to cause further trauma when there’s a better solution for all.

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