B. DFPS Best Practice Guide

DFPS issued a Child and Family Visitation Best Practice Guide for the field in 2015.[279] This guide provides Department employees with policy, guidance, and tools to assess the appropriateness of visitation, how to develop the visitation plan, how to engage fathers and other family members in the visitation process, the role of the foster parents, and how to move from one level of supervision to another.

1. Basic Principles Promoted by the Best Practice Guide

a. Visitation is essential for a child's well-being

The primary purpose of visitation is to maintain the parent-child attachment, reduce a child's sense of abandonment, and preserve their sense of belonging as part of a family and community. A child needs to see and have regular contact with their parent(s) and siblings, as these relationships are the foundation of child development.

b. Visitation is fundamental to permanency

Visitation facilitates permanency planning, promotes timely reunification, and helps in the decision-making process to establish alternative permanency plans. Visitation maintains and supports the parent-child relationship necessary for successful reunification.

c. Visitation is vital to a child maintaining family relationships and cultural connections

Maintaining family connections has life-long significance for a child. Regular visitation maintains their relationships with siblings and others who have a significant role in a child's life. When a child loses family connections, they also lose family history, medical history, and cultural history and information. Visitation is considered to be the heart of reunification, but even when reunification is not likely, parents, siblings and extended family continue to be important in a child's life.

d. Visitation and family contact should never be used as a reward or punishment but should always be considered a right of families and children

The absence of regular and frequent parent-child visitation or contact may have serious consequences for both a child and parent(s). Without visitation, the relationship can deteriorate, and both can become emotionally detached. When parent-child attachment suffers, reunification becomes more difficult.

2. Benefits of Parent-Child Visitation

•   Supports parent-child attachment;

•   Eases the pain of separation for all;

•   Maintains and strengthens family relationships;

•   Reassures a child that their parents/primary caregivers are all right and helps the child to not blame themselves for placement in foster care;

•   Supports the family in dealing with changing relationships;

•   Motivates parents to make positive changes in their life by providing reassurance that the parent-child relationship is important for a child's well-being;

•   Provides opportunities for parent(s) to learn and try new skills;

•   Supports a child's adjustment to the foster home;

•   Enables the parent(s) to be active and stay current with their child's development, educational and medical needs, church and community activities;

•   Provides opportunities for parent(s) to assess how their child is doing, and share information about how to meet their child's needs;

•   Assists in the assessment and decision-making process regarding parenting capacities and permanency goals;

•   Reduces the time in out-of-home care; and

•   Increases the likelihood of reunification.

3. Supervision

If DFPS recommends to the court that visits be supervised, the visitation plan should include a summary statement of the assessed safety reasons supervision is necessary. In addition, parent(s) should clearly understand the specific safety factors preventing less restrictive contact with their child and what demonstrated changes will assist the caseworker in being able to make recommendations lifting supervision requirements.