The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone’s health, jobs, businesses, and lifestyles, impacting almost every aspect of daily living. Whether it is working from home, wearing a mask, or having to sanitize workplaces, daily life has changed dramatically. What makes it difficult is that there is so much information and misinformation out there, and people are not always sure what is safe or legal.
Divorced and separated parents who have visitation schedules with their children face unique challenges from COVID-19 lockdowns. Now more than ever, children need to know that they are protected.
Parents want to keep their kids safe and be there to reassure them, but social distancing can make this more difficult. There are new guidelines that have been set in place by state agencies to help preserve these important family bonds while keeping safety in mind.
How Are Children Being Protected?
The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) is a state agency that funds programs that are designed to assist and strengthen families. They also have a website that provides links to helpful resources that support parents and families. Within the DCF, is the Division ofChild Protection and Permanency (DCPP) agency.
The purpose of the DCPP is to support families and to safeguard the well-being and permanency of children. This organization steps in when accusations of child neglect and child abuse need to be investigated. In some cases, their representatives will arrange for a child’s protection and a family’s treatment. When a child abuse hotline gets calls about abuse or neglect, they may assign it to a local DCPP office for further investigation.
What New Policies Are in Effect?
On April 20, 2020, the DCF posted their COVID-19 visitation guidelines. They have relaxed their normal requirements, and there is now more flexibility. The new policies maintain quality of service while allowing the DCPP, service providers, and families to stick to essential social distancing.
Court-ordered parenting time and sibling visits have not been prohibited, but some families may have to contend with schedule changes that apply to the frequency and duration of visitations. Some may find that more frequent, shorter remote visits work for them, especially with younger children.
The DCPP will continue to monitor these, and all changes to court ordered visitation schedules must be approved by the Deputy Attorney General before modified. To prevent spreading the virus, the DCPP has also imposed temporary restrictions on all in-person the DCPP and provider-facilitated visitations.
How Can I Make Sure in-Person Visits Are Safe?
Though many people are easing up on social distancing, the threat of infection still exists, so it makes sense to keep health a priority during in-person visits. All participants should be screened beforehand by asking these questions:
- Have you or anyone in your home been in contact with anyone who has COVID-19 or is being tested for COVID-19?
- Do you or anyone you live with have COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough, or shortness of breath?
- Have you or any member of your household tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days?
Parents can prepare the space prior to the in-person visitation by first limiting the number of people to 10 or less. When possible, it is best to have visits outdoors. Bringing a football, soccer ball, or other things that encourage outdoor play are also good ideas. If the visit has to be indoors, it is important to thoroughly clean and sanitize the rooms and to provide sanitizing gel. Participants should also remember to thoroughly wash their hands before and after visits.
During the visit, everyone should avoid handshakes and touching faces, eyes, and mouths. It is essential to cover the mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. People are not using masks as much anymore, but these still provide an extra layer of safety, especially for older and higher-risk individuals.
Can I Use Remote Technology?
The DCF recognizes that in-person visitations may be needed, but the DCF encourages video conferencing for parents and children when possible during the crisis. The alternative for preserving meaningful contacts during the crisis is the use of remote technologies, including video or other electronic communications.
To use remote technologies for visitations, parents, resource families, the DCPP representatives, and visitation providers need to have a desktop, laptop, smart phone, or tablet. They also need a reliable internet connection, camera, and a microphone. Non-electronic options include phone calls and regular mail.
During this crisis, families still get sick with other illnesses, and many health providers have implemented telehealth for patient consultations. As a result, the federal Department of Health and Human Services has relaxed enforcement of HIPAA violations as the pandemic is considered a public emergency. This also applies to state agencies and individuals; all are required to demonstrate good faith to prioritize and safeguard confidentiality when using video and electronic communications.
Health care providers that need more privacy protections during telehealth services can obtain them through HIPAA compliant technology vendors. Public facing applications, such as TikTok, Twitch, and Facebook Live, are not permitted in these cases.
What is a Supervised Visitation Provider?
The DCF has also organized a Supervised Visitation Providers (SVP) network to help facilitate virtual visitations. SVP representatives can coordinate these virtual meetings with family members and caregivers, and assist with counseling, coaching, and modeling before, during, and after the virtual visits.
SVPs can also help families with putting together mailings that include postage-paid envelopes, children’s letters, artwork, and pictures. They can also lend a hand in helping families with online interactive options, like family games. SVPs are also resources for counseling services to help children and parents deal with feelings of anger, disappointment, and sadness.
What Should I Know About Contracted Visitation Services?
Supervised and therapeutic parent-child visitation service providers are still handling court-ordered visits to families that are enrolled through their agency. They include pre-visit meetings and post-visit meetings, planned meetings, visitation services, and after care services. For now, these are being conducted with remote technologies. Providers are still accepting new referrals as long as they adhere to the new protocols.
Families who have not updated their visitation plans may want to contact the DCPP for guidance. Additionally, if you have concerns about your visit, speaking with an experienced lawyer is also helpful.
Cherry Hill DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help Families with DCPP Visitations
Our Cherry Hill DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker understand DCPP regulations and help keep families safe. For a confidential consultation, call us at 856-210-9776 or contact us online. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.