NJ foster kids need positive parent visits
New Jersey children living in foster care are visiting with their parents more frequently, but the quality of those visits needs improvement according to a new survey by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which finds that not enough is being done to encourage positive interaction between parents and children.
Research shows that regular, healthy visitation is vital for safely reuniting families whose children were placed in foster care. New Jersey has historically performed poorly in this area, with a majority of foster children not receiving weekly visits with their parents and the quality of those visits uncertain.
The numbers are improving, however. According to the report, more than half, or 52 percent of children in foster care whose goal is to return home, visited weekly with a parent in December 2013, compared to 35 percent in December 2011.
"The state is moving in a positive direction when it comes to increasing the frequency of visitation between children in foster care and their parents, but we need to work on the quality," said Mary Coogan, assistant director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. "If children in foster care maintain a good, stable relationship with their parent through the on-going visitation, that tends to lessen the time in foster care and tends to get children back with their parents, which is ultimately our goal."
A quality visit generally occurs in a home-like setting, if possible. It involves good interaction between the parent and child, according to Coogan.
"We want the parent to engage in a positive way with their child," she said. "Sometimes, children are angry about being in foster care and a parent might need a little coaching on how to deal with that anger. Sometimes, the problems that brought the child into foster care need to be talked about and parents sometimes need help in addressing those topics. You also want it to be a positive experience for the parent, so they have the incentive to work on whatever the problems they have in order to get their child home."
Some of the key findings included the following:
- Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents said parents and children had weekly visits either always (15%) or frequently (53%).
- Despite research showing that children under age five need to visit more frequently, just one-quarter agreed that this occurs in New Jersey.
- Parents not showing for appointments, transportation, and lack of weekend and evening visitation were the most commonly cited barriers to regular visitation.
- Sixty-five percent of respondents said visits were "always" or "frequently" appropriately supervised, with 21 percent saying this happened only "occasionally."
- Nearly half of respondents said that visits are "occasionally" or "rarely" held at locations that encourage positive interaction among parents and children.
- Less than half said judges "always" or "frequently" review families' visitation plans as the case progresses.
- About half said foster parents are not adequately involved in visitation plans, nor are they kept informed about what happens during visits.
As far as infants and toddlers in foster care in New Jersey, their needs should be addressed differently, according to Coogan.
"The research says that infants and toddlers, in order to develop or keep a bond with their parent, need even more frequent visitation with their parent, maybe three times a week," she said.
To view the full report, visit www.acnj.org.