COVID-19 Quarantines Could Jeopardize Custody of Kids in Foster Care

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jul 01, 2020 | 0 Comments

Recent stay-at-home and social distancing orders, intended to keep people safe, are causing new challenges for a growing number of families in recovery. Reports coming in from agencies across the country show that many parents are being denied supervised visits with their children in foster care due to COVID-19 fears. Some, it is feared, may lose their custody rights entirely in the process.

Why Visitation Is Being Curtailed

In the absence of uniform guidance on parental visitation during the national pandemic, child protective services agencies across the country have often been left to make visitation decisions on a case-by-case basis. During active lockdowns, many agencies resorted to parental visits remotely via video chat, but this strategy has proven inadequate for younger children or those with special needs who don't understand why they can't see and touch their parents in person.

Even as some regions begin lessening restrictions, the lingering threat of infection has prompted some agencies to continue restricting in-person visitations in situations believed to be at high risk. For example, if a foster parent is at elevated risk for complications due to COVID, she might be reluctant to allow the children to come back into her home after visiting their parents. In such cases, the agency may lean in favor of the foster parent, to the detriment of the natural parent and the child who doesn't understand the dangers.

Implications and Dangers for the Future

While arranging visitation during a pandemic is certainly a complicated issue with many variables, separating foster children from their biological parents for extended periods could have multiple negative repercussions for families attempting to reconcile. Some of the concerns:

· The extended separation could negatively affect the mental health of both children and parents. At-risk or troubled children, as well as younger children, could feel the separation as abandonment, causing a variety of mental health symptoms. Parents separated from their children could experience emotional trauma, as well.

· The parent-child bond could be inordinately weakened. The longer a child remains separated from a parent, the more difficult it may be for the child-parent bond to be restored. This danger is exacerbated by the fact that many therapeutic services have also been put on hold by the pandemic.

· In some cases, legal custody rights may also be threatened. The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) requires agencies to file for termination of parental rights once a child has been in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months. At present, the law doesn't account for exceptions due to pandemic. If the restoration process for these families continues to be suspended, many parents may lose legal custody of their children through no fault of their own—only because they were unfortunate enough not to be living under the same roof when the pandemic struck.


The question of parental visitation during a high-risk pandemic is not an easy one to solve. No one wants to endanger anyone else's safety. However, there are alternatives that many agencies so far haven't considered. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests, for example, that outdoor interactions with proper precautions (e.g., a mask) greatly reduces the risk of spreading the virus. Supervised outdoor visitations could be conducted with relative safety with certain ground rules in place.

If your parental custody rights have been jeopardized or infringed on due to the pandemic or other unfortunate circumstances, hiring an experienced New Jersey family attorney can help you reclaim those rights while motivating the agencies to come up with safer alternatives. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to discuss your options.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a veteran of one of the nation's busiest family courts with nearly 20 years' experience passionately helping families. By day, he worked in the trenches of family court, and at night, he studied the law. He helped countless families while working at family court, and he went on to become an attorney, dedicating his law practice to continuing the work he started years earlier. Mr. Lento's experience both behind the scenes and on the front lines allows him to understand a client's family law matter from all angles, and allows him to find and employ the most effective strategies to get favorable outcomes for any client. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in New Jersey and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings! He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and protects their interests.


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