Courts' Adjustments Critical for Foster Youth during COVID-19
By Csaba Sukosd | May 29, 2020
Since 1988, every May is recognized as National Foster Care Month. The coronavirus outbreak has made this edition the most difficult.
Like all courts during the pandemic, health and safety measures have slowed or stalled some services and proceedings in juvenile, family, and probate courts. So, judges, staff, and community partners are stressing quantity over quality regarding telecommunication - phone calls, video chats, videoconferences, email - to keep all parties connected. It may be as basic as checking in daily with a child, or as involved as holding a custody trial.
"A person shouldn't have to choose between their health and going to court to get custody for their child," said Summit County Juvenile Court Judge Linda Teodosio.
In foster care cases, a child can be placed with a relative, or into a foster home. Aside from the children and families involved, other parties include case workers, clinicians, and court-appointed special advocates or guardians ad litem - attorneys who work on behalf of the kids. With each partiicipant unable to provide support face-to-face due to coronavirus health and safety guidelines, there's a greater demand for constant contact as many struggle with the isolation.
"It's forced a lot of people to have more social relationships with their clients, and working together to come up with a means of communication that fit all their needs," Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge Denise Cubbon said.
For judges in urban areas, foster care cases involve hundreds of children every month. Currently, there are 779 cases in Lucas County and approximately 850 in Summit County. Approximately 40% involve placement with a relative.
As some take time to get acclimated to the new judicial workflow, many minors have embraced the cyber setup. For a generation that's increasingly accustomed to virtual communication, the current emphasis on conducting as many remote hearings as possible removes the anxiety of a courtroom for minors.
"Some of the older kids are more forthcoming in this kind of setting than face-to-face. For them, they're more comfortable with this. They're reacting to it in a positive way," Judge Teodosio said.
The courts also have seen the impact of innovations - for the present and future. Recognizing that time and logistical constraints can prevent litigants or attorneys from appearing in person, courts will opt for telephone or videoconference hearings for accessibility and efficiency. The most crucial beneficiaries of the updated practices in foster cases are the youth, who judges are trying to keep from returning to the justice system.
"If you give somebody an opportunity, if you keep a safety net around them, they'll just soar," Judge Cubbon said.