By Marcy Walsh, MSW
The Jones family (name changed to protect privacy) was referred several months after their two sons were placed into care due to neglect. Standard supervised visitation wasn’t supporting the needs of the family. The goal was for the sons to return home after the parents completed the necessary requirements. According to the Department of Social Services case manager, the parents saw the removal as a wake-up call and were very cooperative.
The sons were placed in separate foster homes because the oldest son was non-verbal, potentially had minor hearing loss, and though undiagnosed, was suspected of being on the autism spectrum. Because of this and other behaviors, he required one-on-one care for his safety and the safety of his sibling. The youngest son was developmentally delayed in his speech. While both children were having difficulties with transitions into and out of the visits, the parents also had challenges responding to the needs of both sons.
I began working with the Jones family in July 2020 — in the midst of the pandemic. The family previously tried Zoom visits, but the special needs and ages of the sons made these visits unsuccessful. We agreed to in-person meetings while following all public health safety requirements— health checks, masks, and visits cancelled with any signs of illness. Visits took place at the Department of Social Services or at parks depending on the weather.
During our first visits, it was clear that being present was a challenge for the parents. It may seem like a simple task, however, parents are often overwhelmed by the events that led to their children being removed and by the necessary steps for them to return home. Depending on the case, there are classes, therapy or a treatment program, multiple meetings with the Department of Social Services, and court dates. Early into our relationship, I discussed all of the parents’ worries with them, and we talked about strategies to address them when the children were not present. Additionally, helping the children with the transitions into and out of the visit was a priority to reduce their distress before and after visits. The parents were very receptive to working with the foster families to ease into the visits and to a calming activity to return.
We also worked with each son on engaging with his sibling through play, music, and books. At first, this was a challenge because the transitions were hard for both boys. After several months, they showed interest in what the other was doing and joined in activities together.
A few months into the visit, circumstances led to the Department of Social Services recommending that the goal change from reunification to adoption. Leading up to the court case, the parents were distressed. We worked together on allowing time before and after the visits to release their fears, sadness, and overwhelming emotions. The parents stayed present for their sons during the visits.
The court decided to keep the goal to “return home” to allow the parents more time to meet the requirements. Visits continued, but so did the uncertainty. As a Visit Coach, it’s important for me to remain present and in the moment with the family, rather than projecting what might happen later. Each visit is an opportunity for the family to have a loving and supportive time together, working toward reunification.