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Parents Sue DCF For Restricting Child Visitations During Pandemic

A group of Massachusetts parents has filed suit against the Baker administration, arguing it has unlawfully terminated visits with the parents' biological children in foster care. They argued the administration has imposed excessive restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit, scheduled for a hearing Friday, alleged that the state Department of Children and Families' decision to end in-person visits between children in foster care and their biological parents was unconstitutional and traumatizing for already at-risk children. The suit asked a judge to immediately reinstate in-person visits, which were stopped because of the pandemic.

"The directive of the department goes significantly further than the guidance given by the federal or state governments and is excessive, imposing more severe restrictions on contact between children and parents, whose bond is protected by the constitution," the complaint read. "Plaintiffs have been aggrieved by the actions of the department and deprived of the family time they are entitled to at a time when it is critically important."

The suit said the department ended visitation for most children in state custody in March when it moved to virtual visits between parents and children. The suit included an April 3 directive from DCF Commissioner Linda Spears that said most face-to-face parent child visits would be done through phone calls or video conferences to limit in-person interaction as much as possible.

"Visitation means in-person contact," the suit read. "Providing only 'video conference visitation' constitutes a termination of visitation. Through this policy the department is unilaterally deciding whether to provide visitation or terminate visitation, without the requisite court order."

According to the suit, one plaintiff — an unnamed mother of a 3-month-old — has not been physically present with the baby since March 9.

"It's been very difficult for bonding to occur over video," the suit said. It added the mother has been engaged in a "family action plan," and that "the goal is for the baby to be reunified" with the mother.

DCF said it does not comment on pending litigation but is working to reintroduce in-person visitation.

"DCF guidance recognizes the importance of visitation, while protecting the health and safety of children and families," said a statement from DCF spokeswoman Andrea Grossman. "During this unprecedented health crisis, DCF is using technology to maintain contact between child and parents to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, consistent with federal guidance and state law."

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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