On April 15, 2020

A hard choice

By Senator Dick McCormack

The present policy of the state, per court order, is to allow physically present visitation between foster children and their natural parents, despite the COVID epidemic. I support a change in policy to require applicable families to honor the Governor’s isolation protocol, allowing for exceptions. My thinking is as follows:

The epidemic is deadly and requires defensive measures.

These measures are themselves destructive and painful.

We have concluded that, given the seriousness of the crisis, that this pain must be endured, that even the ruining of otherwise sound businesses that embody people’s dreams and human efforts, the loss to poor people of their livelihoods, the broader destruction of the macro economy, the separation of families, the disruption of individual students’ education, and the destruction of educational institutions, are all necessary and must be endured.

Circumstances requiring a child’s removal from his/her natural parents are painful and traumatic.

Removal of a child from his/her natural parents is additionally painful and traumatic.

Continued parent-child contact is necessary.

The state’s policy of endeavoring to reunite the family is right.

Continued parent-child contact is beneficial to that endeavor.

Interference with parent-child contact is painful and destructive and should be avoided if at all possible.

So there is a conflict between the public hygiene needs in this time of a deadly epidemic, and the needs and rights of foster children and their natural parents. In resolving this “Sophie’s Choice” we should not impose a blanket rule. Rather each case should be decided by a court, based on the evidence of the specific, individual details of each case.

But any time a court order is required for a given outcome, there is a default, what happens absent a court order.

The present situation is that, absent a court order, visitation rights are to prevail, and visitation is to occur regardless of the health issues.

Aggrieved parties can seek a court order to the contrary.

I’m proposing the situation be that, absent a court order, the governor’s public health order prevail, that visitation be remote only. Aggrieved parties can seek a court order to the contrary.

There is no blanket rule here. My proposal deals with the default position only. Cases of extreme hardship have access to court, the solution presently being offered to those trying to protect public and individual health.

Why do this?

The first reason is public health.

The second reason is the wellbeing of foster children. They’ve already suffered whatever situation lead to their removal from their natural parents. They are already uprooted and exiled, and likely feel stigmatized.

It can’t be good for foster children to go back to their foster families as viral
vectors.

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