What Is Family Visitation Within the Foster Care System?

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Question: What Is Family Visitation Within the Foster Care System?

Visitation refers to a schedule of times that foster children and members of the child's birth family are to have regular contact. Visitation can refer to several different options and it all depends on the needs of the birth family and the circumstances of the family's case.


Progression of Family Visits

Family visits usually begin as hour-long weekly sessions. As the case continues and the birth parents complete different court ordered tasks, they earn more contact with their children. This gives birth parents the opportunity to show social workers, and ultimately the court, that they are capable of properly parenting and caring for their children.

Other Examples of Family Visitation May Include

  • Supervised Family Visitation: When a child first enters the foster care system, visitation usually begins as supervised. Supervised visits consist of a social worker or agency staff member sitting in with the family during the visit. These visits occur at the foster care agency, usually in a room dedicated for the use of family visits. The person supervising the contact makes notes during the session. This helps the workers to see where the birth family needs to make improvements.
  • Moderated Family Visitation: The birth parents are randomly checked on by members of the foster care agency. The birth family may have more freedom as to the location of these visits.
  • Unsupervised Family Visits: The birth parents are allowed to have visits with their children without being watched over by anyone. They have more freedom as to the location of the visits as well. As time gets closer to the children being reunified back home, unsupervised visits become more frequent and turn into overnight visits.
  • Overnight Visitation: Occurs when the children are very close to returning home with their birth parents or other members of the birth family. Overnights offer another opportunity for the birth family to show members of the social work team their parenting skills and the improvements they have made in their home environment.
  • Phone Calls: Phone calls to the birth family can also be supervised or unsupervised. This is usually handled by the foster family, if they feel comfortable screening the calls. This is done through the use of a speaker phone or the speaker setting on a cell phone. The foster parent listens to make sure that the conversation stays appropriate on both ends of the calls. Foster parents may also have to monitor the amount of time the child is on the phone with birth family.
  • Social Media: Thanks to social media, like Facebook, this is another world of contact that social workers must keep in mind and possibly monitored. Some workers may not have an issue with teens befriending their birth family online, others may not approve it at all. There may be stipulations attached to such contact, like foster parents being asked to also befriending the child on Facebook in order to monitor online activity with the birth family.
  • Skype: Some agencies may choose to utilize Skype as a way to help a child maintain contact with birth family in-between regular visits.

Goals of Family Visitation

The main goal of a family visit is for the child and birth parent to ultimately become reunified. Visitation allows social workers a glimpse into the family dynamic and the opportunity to see what is working and what is not working as a family unit. The workers can then make plans for change.

Visits also allow for the parent to see that their child is being taken care of and for the child to see that their mom or dad is okay as well.

Family Visits Can Also Change in Location

  • the foster care offices
  • the home of the birth parent
  • the foster parent's home
  • public locations - like restaurants or parks

People that a Foster Child Might Visit

  • birth parents
  • siblings
  • grandparents and other members of the birth family
  • former foster parents