With the amount of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. rising every day, the majority of states have issued mandatory social isolation, but does this include isolation from your own children?
Two mothers have recently spoken out about how the Coronavirus pandemic has been used to take away their children against their will, and some judges are ordering the removal of children due to potential exposure to the Coronavirus with their parents.
Healthcare workers at risk of losing their children due to possible COVID-19 exposure
A mother in Oklahoma shared a post on Facebook on March 21, stating,
“The police showed up on my doorstep at 10 PM and took my kids from me because I WORK IN A CLINIC.”
According to the mother, and court documents shared on the social media site, a judge signed off on an ex parte hearing, approving the Emergency Motion to Modify Custody and for Pick-Up Order Due to Respondent Exposure to Coronavirus.
The mother sent this warning to first responders,
“Just a heads up to nurses, doctors, firefighters, police officers, and other first responders who have children and sneaky exes… watch your backs!”
She then also posted a copy of a gag order issued by the judge on her Facebook Page stating: “Not in violation by posting; asked and verified.”
Some Judges Cancelling Visitation Rights of Foster Children with Their Parents “just when they need the comfort of their own families the most”
On Wednesday, March 18, the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR) provided news and commentary on their blog concerning child abuse, child welfare, foster care, and family preservation.
The NCCPR news and commentary round-up for the week ending March 17 provided the following:
“The Chronicle of Social Change is tracking the issues child welfare agencies will have to deal with during the COVID19 pandemic. And family defender Amy Mulzer has a tweet thread predicting how those agencies will deal with it: Badly.”
UPDATE: And, as if to prove Mulzer right, a judge in Arkansas is cutting off in-person visits between foster children and their parents – just when they need the comfort of their own families the most.
NCCPR provided a copy of an order from the circuit court of Lonoke County, Arkansas Juvenile Division.
How one mother and daughter have been affected by “social distancing”
March 21st, Leila Fadel, with NPR, provided a story that describes how social isolation is affecting the ability of parents to see their children, and also prolonging the process of trying to get their children out of foster care.
Fadel reports on Jessica, a mother from Brooklyn, New York, whose twice weekly, overnight visitation with her daughter has been suspended due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Jessica, who asked NPR to only use her first name due to pending legal cases involving the custody of her daughter, explains how she is only allowed to communicate with her daughter through FaceTime, video conference and three-way calls.
“I can’t see her anymore, for now,” Jessica is quoted as saying.
Before the Coronavirus outbreak, Jessica told NPR how her visits went with her daughter.
“I’m usually feeding her, singing to her, playing with her, we were bonding. It’s like [the virus] snatched it away from me now.”
To avoid the spread of the virus, child welfare services, foster agencies and family courts around the country are being forced to determine what requires in-person contact.
NPR reports, due to the coronavirus outbreak,
“New York City’s courts are only hearing cases that are deemed an emergency or essential. That means Jessica’s upcoming court appearance — when custody and visitation were supposed to be addressed — is now postponed for months. Services provided to families are also slowing down.”
Anya Mukarji-Connolly, supervising attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, the organization representing Jessica in her case, told reporter Fadel,
“One of our biggest concerns is the slowdown in family court. We don’t know yet how this is going to impact our clients, but we know that it’s going to be terrible.”
Other states have also temporarily suspended all in-person parental visits.
Maine’s Office of Child and Family Services wrote in a letter on their website, addressed to both foster and adoptive parents,
“To ensure that OCFS is remaining connected to youth, parents, and resource parents, it is expected that staff will coordinate contact to occur through phone calls or video conferencing for any families that need to be seen by the end of April 2020.”
In California, Los Angeles County courts are suspended through April 16th for all “non-emergency and non-essential matters.”
According to NPR,
“Los Angeles County has the largest child welfare system in the country and right now it says it is fully staffed and continuing in-home visits, placements and removals, while also assessing what in-person contact is absolutely necessary. It’s also providing protective gear to its staff.”
Bobby Cagle, the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services is quoted by Fadel as saying,
“Much of the work that we do is emergency basis, and that means that we have to appear at the home unannounced.
When we do that, we try to equip those workers first with the kind of masks, eye protection, gloves and gowns that they need in the event that they encounter a family member who is, or could be, sick.”
The story reports,
Cagle is managing a system of some 9,000 staff who serve about 34,000 children at any given time.
“The work of child protection is a 24-hour a day, seven days a week endeavor across our country,” Cagle says.
“And just like police protection and fire protection, our services continue throughout the crisis and the social distancing.”
Fadel points out,
“The same isolation that is supposed to keep people healthy could also be detrimental for a child who is being mistreated.”
Cagle tells Fadel that calls to the child protection hotline are down due to schools being closed, and teachers and school staff, who normally have an eye out for alleged abuse, aren’t seeing kids.
This has led Cagle to call on the public to watch for signs of abuse and neglect and to call the Child Protection Hotline.
Cagle told NPR,
“I very strongly encourage the public to remain vigilant about the safety of children in families,” he says.
“This is a time of increased stress and we know from the work that we do that this can also cause an uptick in maltreatment of children. And so we want to be very much on the watch for that.”
For now, Jessica will have to continue any contact with her daughter via FaceTime and phone calls. Her upcoming court appearances have now been postponed for months, based on the report by NPR.
The services provided to families have also slowed down. Jessica’s supervising attorney, Mukarji-Connolly, says,
“Not having access to services, not having access to visitation, it’s certainly going to be harmful to the families, but also we anticipate it will delay reunification.”