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Clinical Case Planning for In-Person Family Time Guidance

Interim guidance issued for clinical case planning for in-person family time.

Table of Contents

Clinical Case Planning for In-Person Family Time Guidance

Effective: August 4, 2020

This guidance will assist Social Workers, Supervisors and Managers in understanding what Family Time is and how to examine and update visitation plans to better reflect the goals of Family Time, including whether this time should be unsupervised, or supervised by a worker or by a family member or caregiver.

What is Family Time?

Family Time is safe, meaningful, and frequent contact and connection between children and youth in out- of-home care and their families. Family time strengthens the family, expedites reunification, and improves child and parent well-being. Family Time reduces the trauma of removal and helps maintain the integrity of the parent-child relationship and healthy sibling relationships.

How is Family Time different than Parent-Child Visits?

Family Time is a different way to think about traditional parent-child visits. Family Time can and should occur in the most natural setting possible for children. This means thinking differently about the frequency of visits, where the visits occur, and who supervises them.

For example, when prepared and supported, a kinship or foster parent can provide supervision and facilitate Family Time in a less artificial setting. In some instances, kinship and foster parents may be able to provide more frequent family time than a DCF social worker can provide. Family Resource and Ongoing Social Workers will need to work together to prepare and support kinship and foster parents for Family Time. Social workers should help kinship and foster parents with planning and preparation and answer any questions they may have.

When and Where Can Family Time Occur?

Family Time can occur when the parent and/or family participates in normal parenting activities, such as sharing meals, medical appointments and school events. It can occur in the homes of kinship or foster families, in the parent’s home, or in the community. The frequency, duration and intensity of “family time” takes into account the needs of children, depending upon their age and stage of development, and the capacities of parents to share parenting roles with resource families.

Not all Family Time requires supervision by a social worker or caregiver. Supervised Family Time should occur when supervision is necessary because there is a demonstrated safety risk to the child if left alone with the parent or other family member.

Prepare for Family Time

As DCF resumes Family Time, this is a valuable opportunity to assess current visitation plans to better reflect the purpose and goals of Family Time.

Review Cases with Your Supervisor

As part of the preparation to begin in-person Family Time, Social Workers and Supervisors should discuss all cases with children in placement during supervision. Social Workers and Supervisors should discuss visitation plans for each case to assess what Family Time should look like going forward.

As Social Workers and Supervisors review visitation plans, discuss the following for all cases:

  • The child’s age and development
  • The child’s placement setting
  • Who has supervised Family Time in the past
  • How often virtual Family Time is occurring
  • Whether reunification is likely to occur soon
  • For sibling groups: whether siblings have been able to visit with one another

When discussing where visits should occur and if Family Time should be supervised, discuss the following:

  • Whether the parent has made past threats to the kin/foster caregiver or DCF
  • Whether the parent exhibited violent behavior during a visit or threatened or tried to abscond with the child
  • For substance use cases: the parent’s success/progress in achieving and maintaining the sobriety/recovery process; whether the parents have appeared at visits while under the influence
  • For family violence cases: whether the offending parent has refrained from violence/coercion

Remember, not all Family Time requires supervision by a social worker or caregiver. Supervised family time should occur when supervision is necessary because there is a demonstrated safety risk to the child if left alone with the parent or other family member.

For Children Placed in Kinship Care: For children placed in Kinship or child- specific foster homes, there is a unique opportunity to explore Family Time, where it can occur, and who, if anyone, should supervise it. Often, the familial connection between a parent and Kinship caregiver can help facilitate Family Time that is more frequent and in a more familiar environment for children. Social workers and supervisors should discuss cases and consider the following:

  • Whether the Kinship caregiver has a positive/effective working relationship with the birth parents
  • Whether the kin/foster caregiver is comfortable in supervising family time
  • Whether the kin caregiver is able to manage the family member and support the parent during the family time
  • Whether the kin caregiver is able is able to manage family conflict and what supports they may need to safely and effectively manager family time

Children 0-5 and Children Placed with Reunification Likely Within Three (3) Months: Increased Family Time should be considered due to the child’s age or because reunification is likely to occur soon. For young children, frequent meaningful visitation is vital for parent-child attachment and critical for future social, emotional, and cognitive development. For cases where reunification is likely to occur within the next three (3) months, the parent(s) are likely to have demonstrated an improvement in their parenting capacity. For these situations where family time has been supervised in the past, unsupervised family time should be considered.

Factors to Consider When Developing and Updating Plans on All Cases

Family Time plans should change over time as a case progresses toward reunification, with visits typically moving from being supervised to unsupervised, increasing in length, and requiring more responsibility on the part of parents. Even when reunification is not likely, Family Time is an important opportunity for preserving the child’s connections with family, relatives, community, and culture.

Family Time should also be viewed as an opportunity to actively engage, observe, and coach parents with the goal of strengthening parental capacities. As you develop and adjust Family Time plans, it is important to think about Family Time observations of a parent’s progress/success in improving their parenting capacities. Virtual Family Time can also be a useful resource for coaching and engaging children and families for more meaningful in-person Family Time.

Determine the Family Time Plan

After considering all of the above factors, the Social Worker and Supervisor will determine a Family Time plan for each case. This includes discussing who will participate in the visit, where the visit will occur (see below), and transportation to the visit if applicable. If a case is particularly complex, then a manager should be consulted to assist with forming a plan. Suggested plans can include a combination of the following, including virtual visits to supplement in-person visits:

  1. Unsupervised in the community;
  2. Supervised by the Kinship caregiver or foster parent either in the community or at their residence;
  3. Only partially supervised (i.e., check in before, during, or after family time)
  4. Continue with DCF supervised visits

For the time being, Family Time should be a combination of in-person and virtual. Family Time frequency and length should be determined on a case-by- case basis and should consider the factors listed above. For examples of Family Time plans, refer to the Appendix.

COVID-19 Related Considerations for In Person Supervised Family Time

As the Commonwealth has successfully reduced both the rate and number of COVID-19+ individuals, it is currently safer to increase the frequency of in- person Family Time. As DCF resumes supervised in-person Family Time outdoors at offices, community spaces and supervised visitation centers during the COVID-19 pandemic, precautions must be taken to ensure Family Time occurs safely. This includes a phased-in approach to in-person Family Time during July and August.

Date published: August 4, 2020