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Children's Bureau Urges Child Welfare Professionals to Strengthen Family Time

Wednesday, February 5, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kim Dvorchak
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Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau released an Informational Memorandum urging child welfare professionals to strengthen family time.


TO: State, Tribal and Territorial Agencies Administering or Supervising the Administration of Titles IV-E and IV-B of the Social Security Act, and State and Tribal Court Improvement Programs.

SUBJECT: Family Time and visitation for children and youth in out-of-home care.

LEGAL AND RELATED REFERENCES: Titles IV-B and IV-E of the Social Security Act.

PURPOSE: To provide information on research, best practices, resources and recommendations for providing children and youth in out-of-home care safe, meaningful and high frequency family time that strengthens the family, expedites reunification and improves parent and child well-being outcomes. This information memorandum (IM) emphasizes the importance of family time and visitation in reducing the trauma of removal and placement of children in out-of-home care, maintaining the integrity of the parent-child relationship, healthy sibling relationships and overall child and family well-being.


Children in out-of-home care often face many unintended and undesirable consequences that adversely affect them in childhood and follow them into adulthood, even when out-of-home care is necessary to protect their safety. Placing a child in out-of-home care can cause irreparable damage to the child and the broader family unit.1 Removal and subsequent continued separation makes the sustenance of primary relationships and prospects of reunification more problematic. The loss a child experiences when separated from his or her parent or parents is profound and can last into adulthood.2 In terms of evolutionary biology, losing a parent or primary protective adult can represent a grave danger to survival for a child. Evidence of this activation and its harmful physiological and psychological consequences is well established.3 Attachment science shows that the emotional and psychological ramifications of child removal from primary caregivers occur even if the removals are relatively brief. Short-term removals can interfere with a child’s sense of safety, and multiple critical capacities, including learning, curiosity, social engagement, and emotional regulation.

Following removal from parents, children and youth are often scared and confused and have incomplete understandings of what is happening to their families, why they are not with their families and what their future will hold. When they lack basic information about the status of their parent or caregiver, they may imagine worst-case scenarios and/or experience feelings of abandonment.5 This uncertainty has been characterized as ambiguity of loss and provides evidence that ambiguity (not knowing or having the capacity to comprehend why they are not with their parents, where their parents are, or what will happen to him or her) is a tremendous source of stress and trauma.6 Children and youth are at their most traumatized stage immediately following removal and often do not see their parents for days or weeks, which can exacerbate stress responses and compound trauma.

What the field most often regards as “visitation” and “visitation plans” seldom fulfills the needs that parents and children have for meaningful and nurturing time together. This language often implies standard visitation schedules whereby all parents receive a predetermined amount of supervised time with their child, regardless of the parents’ circumstances and protective capacities, and for “visitation” to increase only as parents “earn” the right for longer and unsupervised interactions.

Viewing child and family contacts during foster care less as “visits” and more as “family time” suggests the critical importance of the length and quality of time that children spend with their parents, separated siblings, and other important family members. “Family time” can occur when the parent and/or family participates in normal parenting activities, such as sharing meals, medical appointments and school events. It can occur in the homes of resource families or in the family’s home. The frequency, duration and intensity of “family time” takes into account the needs of children, depending upon their age and stage of development, and the capacities of parents to share parenting roles with resource families.

Click here for a copy of the Informational Memorandum on Family Time


The IM is organized as follows:

I. Family Time: Research and Best Practices

II. Inadequate Family Time: Research and Best Practices

III. Resources and Innovation to Support Strong Family Time Practice

IV. Recommendations

V. Conclusion

VI. Resources

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