“Family Time” is the overarching label for time that children in foster care spend visiting their parents and siblings. It ranges from a supervised visit at a DCYF office to having the child spend a weekend at the parent’s house unsupervised.
WA laws encourage foster parents to be involved in family time for the child in their care, including transporting them to visits and participating in activities with the family (RCW 13.34.260), but it does not require this. The law does not define the policies covering visitation, but requires the department to develop policies and protocols and to train all parties in following them (RCW 13.34.380). The law requires that the department “[ensure] that siblings have regular visits with each other, as appropriate” (RCW 13.34.025 1a)
All children need to have the stability of long-term relationships, and children in foster care need to be able to see their families and maintain that regular connection with their families. Visitation helps to minimize the trauma that occurs from being removed from their families. It is a stabilizing factor that helps both the children and parents to cope with a situation that can be very stressful. Children of all ages benefit – infants and toddlers need time to bond with their parents and family members, school-age children need to continue building the bonds that increase resiliency. DCYF has a collection of best practices and supporting evidence for visitation available on their website.
The length and frequency of family time will be listed in the court order for the child’s dependency. In general, infants are expected to spend significant and frequent amounts of time visiting with their parents, up to 1 hour every day, and this time commitment reduces as a child ages.
Family time under covid
Early in the stay-at-home orders, in-person visits between foster children and their families were substantially suspended and replaced by virtual visits over Zoom/video calling. As at 1/1/2021, the department considers that some children can safely participate in in-person visits and other children should continue virtual visits. There are a variety of safety guidelines to be followed by the foster family, birth family and visitation providers in order to continue in-person visits.
Scheduling and coordinating family visits for foster children can be difficult, especially if there are siblings being cared for in multiple homes, or for a foster family that is caring for children from multiple birth families. It is not always possible or desirable for the foster parent to attend family time, and they are not required to. Besides this, in many cases, the parents are required to have supervision during time with their children, and the parents home may not be an appropriate location. In these circumstances, children can be transported to visits and supervised by their social worker, or by a specific provider hired for transportation and/or supervision. The visits may take place at a DCYF or private agency office, in a public place or in a space offered by the visit provider.