For Immediate Release
August 13, 2014
Contact: Nancy Parello, Communications Director, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, (908) 399-6031, email@example.com
Many New Jersey children living in foster care may visit regularly with their parents, but those visits frequently are not held in ways that encourage positive interaction among parents and children, which can help children return safely home, a new survey found.
Read the report.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey surveyed about 450 people involved in the state’s child protection system, including foster parents, state caseworkers and lawyers who represent these children. The survey explored the frequency and quality of visitation, as well as barriers to successful visits.
Regular, healthy visitation is a critical foundation for safely reunifying families whose children had to be placed in foster care, research shows. New Jersey has historically performed poorly in this area, with a majority of foster children not receiving weekly visits with their parents and the quality of those visits uncertain.
The latest report from the federal court-appointed monitor, which tracks progress in New Jersey’s child welfare reforms, shows improvements. More than half – 56 percent of children in foster care whose goal is to return home ‐‐ visited weekly with their parent(s) in December 2013, compared to 35 percent in December 2011.
While this is positive, the settlement sets what is, arguably, a low bar for visitation, requiring just 60 percent of children with a goal of family reunification to have weekly visits. There is no visitation requirements for children who have a goal other than reunification and, therefore, no information about whether that is occurring.
To gather more information about how family visitation is conducted in New Jersey, Advocates for Children of New Jersey conducted a survey in January 2014.
Key findings include:
- Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents said parents and children had weekly visits either always (15%) or frequently (53%).
- Despite research showing that children under five need to visit more frequently, just one-quarter agreed that this occurs in New Jersey.
- Parents not showing for appointments, transportation and lack of weekend and evening visitation were the most commonly cited barriers to regular visitation.
- Sixty-five percent of respondents said visits were “always” or “frequently” appropriately supervised, with 21 percent saying this happened only “occasionally.”
- Nearly half of respondents said that visits are “occasionally” or “rarely” held at locations that encourage positive interaction among parents and children.
- Less than half said judges “always” or “frequently” reviews families’ visitation plans as the case progresses.
- About half said foster parents are not adequately involved in visitation plans, nor are they kept informed about what happens during visits.
“New Jersey has seen a concerning rise in the number of children being re-abused after they have returned home from foster care,” Mary Coogan, Assistant director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “We do not know if this is directly related to the frequency and quality of family visits, but the research is clear that children who have healthy, regular contact with their parents while in foster care are much more likely to return safely home.”
ACNJ recommended that:
- The Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the monitor conduct an analysis of the barriers to visitation and develop a plan to address those barriers. Resource parents and other stakeholders should be involved in that assessment and the development of a statewide plan.
- DCF should provide more frequent visitation for infants and toddlers.
- The federal court and monitor overseeing the child welfare case should reach an agreement with the state to strengthen visitation standards.
- DCF and the monitor should conduct an analysis of the quality of visitation, including the location and duration of visits, supervision of visits, coaching of parents and other key elements of quality visitation.
- DCF must meet the logistics of arranging visits, including providing transportation for both parents and children, and arrange visits at times that are conducive to both parent and children’s schedules.
- DCF should more actively involve resource parents in visitation plans, keep them informed of what occurs during visits and, when appropriate, involve resource parents in the visits themselves.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey is a statewide, non-profit child action and research organization dedicating to ensuring that every child has the chance to grow up safe, healthy and educated.