By: Brad TenBrook
Arizona Department of Child Safety’s (DCS) director, Mike Faust, has issued a handful statements on the COVID-19 pandemic. As recently as April 10, 2020, DCS was not allowing in-person visitation to occur between a parent and their child in DCS custody.
Governor Ducey, via Executive Order, has shut down non-essential businesses in Arizona. The Governor’s list of essential businesses includes child welfare workers (DCS), along with businesses such as golf courses. The order does not mention anything about visitation between parents and their children and does not appear to close field offices that DCS uses to host supervised visits.
So, the question needs to be asked: why is a golf course essential, but visitation between a parent and child is not? Controlling the spread of COVID-19 is obviously priority number one, but parenting a child is a fundamental constitutional right. And to not be able to see your child, who could be in a foster home or a group home, would weigh heavily on any parent—pandemic or not.
Director Faust’s decision to disallow visitation must have been difficult. There must be consideration to both the parent’s fundamental right and DCS’s desire to help control the spread of COVID-19. Video visits are obviously an option. But as we all know via Zoom or Skype, a video chat is simply not the same. Further, DCS requires parents to ‘prove’ their ability to safely parent their child to have the child returned. Can DCS determine whether a parent is fit via Facetime?
Everyone hopes to return to ‘normal’ at some point, but it is anyone’s guess when the ordinary trappings of juvenile court matters will start to resurface. It is yet to be seen whether DCS will factor in the challenges of COVID-19 for parents who will have gone months without an in-person visit with their children. Will DCS ask the courts to prolong state custody for parents who have only had video visits, or will they give parents the benefit of the doubt given the circumstances?
Only time will tell, but parents must exert every effort to maintain contact with their children despite the pandemic and should not simply wait for the conditions to improve. Instead, they should schedule as many virtual visits as possible and urge courts to return children to their custody sooner rather than later.
Brad TenBrook is a former Assistant Attorney General who represented DCS. He now focuses on helping families navigate the DCS world of investigations and dependencies