340:75-6-30. Child's visitation with parents and siblings
(a) Visitation is a right. • 1 The child and parent have a right to regular visitation when the child is in Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) custody and in an out-of-home placement.
(1) A court may not deny visitation based solely on the failure of a parent to prove that the parent has not used legal or illegal substances or complied with an aspect of the court-ordered individualized service plan per Section 1-4-707 of Title 10A of the Oklahoma Statutes (10A O.S. § 1-4-707).
(2) When the court determines reunification services are appropriate for the child and parent, the court allows reasonable visitation with the parent or legal guardian from whose custody the child was removed, unless visitation is not in the child's best interests, considering the child's:
(A) physical safety;
(C) expressed wishes.
(b) Frequency of parent-child visitation. Per 10A O.S. § 1-7-105, the child has the right to communicate and visit with his or her family, kin, and community on a regular basis, provided the communication or visitation is in the best interests of the child.
(1) Family visitation begins no later than seven-calendar days after the child's removal from the home.
(2) A visitation schedule that considers the child's needs is developed and includes a minimum of one visit per week during the first 90-calendar days from the date of the child's removal and then a minimum of two times per calendar month visitation thereafter until the child is returned or the permanency plan is no longer reunification. • 1
(3) Exceptions to the frequency of visitation, including the termination of visitation are made, when the:
(A) parent fails or declines to cooperate with visitation arrangements;
(B) court orders no visitation;
(C) whereabouts of the parent is unknown despite continuous attempts to locate;
(D) visitation, even when supervised, endangers or is determined not to be in the child's best interest;
(E) court orders a different visitation frequency; or
(F) the permanency plan is not reunification.
(c) Child's mail and phone contacts. Per 10A O.S. § 1-7-105, a child has constant access to writing materials and may send mail without limitation, censorship, or prior reading, and may receive mail without prior reading, except that mail may be opened in the presence of the child, without being read, to inspect for contraband or when authorized by the court for the child's protection.
(1) The child's contact with the child's parent, extended family, and friends through phone calls, email, social media, and mail is encouraged. The child's phone calls, email, social media, and mail are not monitored or restricted unless done so for the child's protection. • 5
(2) Restrictions to mail and phone contact only occur when court-ordered and may be considered when:
(A) threats are made to the child;
(B) the contact causes harm to the child's emotional well-being;
(C) there is an attempt to influence the child's testimony; or
(D) an attempt is made to undermine a present or future placement.
(d) Child's contact with siblings. Per Section 471(a)(31) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(31)), 10A O.S. §§1-4-807 and 1-4-811, and Oklahoma Administrative Code 340:75-6-85, DHS makes ongoing reasonable efforts to place sibling groups together in both temporary and permanent placements. When joint placement of siblings is unsafe or contrary to the child's well-being, DHS must justify and document the justification for the decision, make monthly efforts to resolve the barriers to joint placement, provide frequent visitation, and arrange for ongoing interaction. Frequent contact, such as face-to-face visitation, phone calls, email, social media, or mail contact between siblings is arranged. DHS must make efforts to resolve barriers to joint placement and visitation a minimum of once a month. • 2
(e) Child's visits and contacts with relatives and others. When a child is in DHS custody, visitation or contact with relatives or other community connections is encouraged whenever it is safe and in the child's best interest. • 6
INSTRUCTIONS TO STAFF 340:75-6-30
1. (a) Right to visitation (family time).
(1) The parent is notified of the right to visit the child via, Form 04KI012E, Individualized Service Plan (ISP), or Form 04KI013E, Individualized Service Plan (ISP) Dispositional Report, as applicable.
(2) Denial of family time, sibling contact, or the exchange of phone calls, emails, social media, and mail is not used to reward or punish the child or family. However, family time, sibling contact, or the exchange of phone calls, emails, social media, and mail may be denied or limited for the child's safety.
(3) Before unsupervised family-time begins, the child welfare (CW) specialist completes Form 04KI030E, Assessment of Child Safety, which is approved by the CW supervisor and scanned into the KIDS document management system (DMS).
(4) When a CW specialist believes a court is denying family time based solely on the failure of a parent to prove that the parent has not used legal or illegal substances or complied with an aspect of the court-ordered ISP, the CW specialist discusses the case with his or her supervisor and district director. When the CW supervisor and district director believe family time is denied for the reasons cited above, the supervisor or district director contacts Oklahoma Human Services (OKDHS) Legal Services for assistance to ensure regular parent-child family time is allowed by the court.
(b) Parent-child family time. Family time is the single most predictive factor in whether a child is successfully reunified.
(1) Family time begins no later than seven-calendar days after the child's removal.
(2) Frequent, purposeful family time contributes to successful placement and reunification, reduces the time to reunification, and is a high priority of the CW specialist. Family time serves to:
(A) reassure the child the parent has not abandoned and still cares him or her;
(B) reassure the parent Child Welfare Services (CWS) is committed to maintaining family relationships and helping the parent;
(C) strengthen familial relationships;
(D) stabilize placements;
(E) create an environment for the parent to demonstrate new parenting skills;
(F) create an opportunity where parenting skills may be evaluated; and
(G) allow the CW specialist to:
(i) assess parent-child interaction;
(ii) assess the parent's level of interest and protective capacities;
(iii) prepare the family for reunification; and
(iv) identify continued child safety threats that make reunification unfeasible.
(c) Family time schedule.
(1) The family, placement provider, and CW specialist develop a written family time schedule within 10-calendar days of the child's removal from the home. The family time schedule is updated as needed, ensuring a formal family time schedule is always in place and available in KIDS. Family time increases in length and frequency and decreases in the level of supervision as the parent demonstrates a change in the behaviors that caused the child to be unsafe. Form 04MP047E, Family Time Plan, is used to prepare the family time schedule. The CW specialist:
(A) fills out the calendar pages included in Form 04MP047E; or
(B) may use a blank Outlook calendar to substitute for the blank calendar pages in Form 04MP047E.
(2) A family time schedule provides a measure of certainty for parent-child interaction time and allows the parent a reliable routine for practicing new parenting and relationship techniques. The schedule promotes the parent-child relationship and allows the CW specialist an opportunity to observe their interaction and to gauge the parent's commitment level to the child.
(3) The family, placement provider, and CW specialist determine the family time frequency, location, and arrangements.
(4) A family meeting (FM) may be utilized to develop a family time schedule, allowing the informal supports for the family, such as relatives, kin, friends, or neighbors, to assist the parent, when appropriate.
(5) When safety is ensured, the placement provider participates in family time and supports, mentors, and helps the parent work toward reunification.
(6) The family, placement provider, and CW specialist sign the family time schedule .
(7) The parent, placement provider, child, and others, as appropriate, are provided a copy of the family time schedule.
(8) The family time schedule, minus the signature page, is attached to Form 04KI012E or Form 04KI013E and all ongoing progress reports to the court. A copy is scanned into the KIDS DMS following each update.
(d) Family time frequency. The CW specialist attempts to facilitate the most frequent family time schedule possible, ensuring a minimum of one time per week during the first 90-calendar days from the child's removal date, and then a minimum of two visits per calendar month between parent and child, and a minimum of one visit per calendar month between separated siblings in addition to the parent visits. Sibling visits may take place any time during the month including immediately before, or after the parent-child visits.
(1) When the court orders the frequency of family time, the schedule includes the number of court-ordered visits.
(2) Contact with the child occurs according to the child's safety needs.
(3) Family time frequency is increased by adding a schedule for phone calls, emails, social media, and mail, followed by an increase in visits. Phone calls and visits are arranged by the parent, placement provider, and age-appropriate child.
(e) Length of family time. Initial visits may be of short duration, such as one to two hours. Length of family time gradually increases as agreed to by the parent, placement provider, and CW specialist based on the planned activities and the child's and family's safety.
(1) Increased family time frequency and duration is encouraged.
(2) Successful, unsupervised all-day, overnight, and weekend visits are completed prior to planning for the child's return home.
(f) Location. In the beginning stages of a case, family time may require supervision by the CW specialist, and when necessary, an environment, such as the OKDHS office or in the home of an approved relative or kin. When safety can be assured, family time takes place in a home-like setting. When a home-like setting is not available or appropriate, family time may be held in locations mutually agreed-upon by the parents, placement provider, CW specialist, and CW supervisor. An alternate location is selected that stimulates family interaction and ensures the child's safety and the family's confidentiality.
(1) As the parent progresses in developing protective capacities and in eliminating safety threats, family time frequency and length increase and the location moves to the parent's, placement provider's, approved relative's, or kin's home or other appropriate, mutually agreed-upon location. Whenever possible, the parent's home is used as the family time location to transition the child back into the home setting.
(2) The family time length, frequency, and location are based on the child's needs and the parent's abilities.
(g) Family time activities. Family time includes planned, structured, and age-appropriate activities with the child that strengthen the parent-child relationship and allow the parent an opportunity to learn about the child's development. As parental involvement progresses, school conferences, and doctor appointments may be combined with the family visits, when appropriate.
(h) Family time importance. The CW specialist stresses the importance of regular visits with the child, to the parent. The parent is informed a child in out-of-home placement anticipates and is positively or negatively affected by family time. The CW specialist explains:
(1) when a parent fails to attend a scheduled visit, the child may be negatively impacted;
(2) the parent's attendance, behaviors, and interactions with the child at scheduled family time is documented on Form 04KI014E, Individualized Service Plan (ISP) Progress Report, to report the parent's progress toward improved parenting; and
(3) frequent parent-child family time increases the likelihood of timely reunification.
(i) Family time reduction, suspension, or discontinuation. Reducing, suspending, or discontinuing parent-child family time or sibling visits is always a last resort and only considered when safety cannot be ensured during family time. Prior to recommending reduction, suspension, or discontinuation of parent-child family time or sibling visits, the CW specialist consults with the district attorney (DA), the child's attorney, and the child's therapist, when applicable.
(1) When parent-child family time is implemented by the CW specialist and is not court-ordered, the CW specialist provides written notice of the decision to suspend or terminate family time with a detailed explanation, including efforts made by OKDHS to improve the family time quality, to the:
(B) child's attorney;
(D) court-appointed special advocate (CASA), when applicable; and
(E) tribe, when applicable.
(2) When parent-child family time is court-ordered, OKDHS does not suspend or terminate visits without prior court approval. The recommendation to suspend or terminate parent-child family time, includes a detailed explanation, documenting efforts made by OKDHS, to improve family time quality; and is only made when all efforts were exhausted to secure an environment, location, and supervision level that ensures the child's safety. Documentation is provided to the:
(B) child's attorney;
(D) CASA, when applicable; and
(E) tribe, when applicable.
(j) Family time documentation. The occurrences and interactions during family time provide essential information utilized in case decisions.
(1) Family time is documented:
(A) in the KIDS Contacts flagged "visitation" or Visits screens;
(B) in the Visitation Section of Form 04KI013E for the initial disposition hearing; and
(C) on Form 04KI014E for review and permanency hearings to provide information to the court regarding visitation.
(2) Documentation includes, but is not limited to:
(A) the parent's progress in demonstrating protective capacities, parenting skills, and the ability to provide safety for the child during family time;
(B) the development of the parent-child relationship;
(C) justification of the decision not to provide frequent sibling family time and efforts to provide ongoing family time or other contact between siblings, when siblings are not placed in the same home. Guidance on when siblings may be separated is found in Oklahoma Administrative Code (OAC) 340:75-6-85; and
(D) other significant events.
(k) Parent's failure to attend family time. When the parent does not attend a scheduled visit, the CW specialist discusses the absence with the parent to determine the cause.
(1) When the parent is unable to attend due to circumstances beyond his or her immediate control, another visit is scheduled as soon as it can be arranged and services, such as transportation, are provided to alleviate the cause of the missed visit, and promote future family time. The CW specialist makes every effort to remove barriers that prevent the parent from attending family time.
(2) When missed family time occurs after services are offered, the:
(A) reasons for the parent's absence are evaluated with the parent's participation; and
(B) parent is informed failure to keep scheduled visits may negatively impact the child's emotional and mental well-being and to the parent-child relationship
(3) When the parent continues to miss visits after services are offered, this indicates the parent may be unwilling or unable to assume parenting responsibilities.
(4) Arriving late, leaving early, or poor parent-child interaction may constitute a pattern similar to missing family time. The CW specialist considers this information during the child's permanency planning.
(l) Behaviors demonstrated during family time.
(1) The child may:
(A) be upset by the parent's behaviors;
(B) have a loyalty conflict between the parent and placement provider; or
(C) feel anger, fear, or uncertainty about the separation and the future.
(2) Pre- and post-visit behaviors are documented in KIDS Visits screen and, when appropriate, Form 04KI014E.
(3) When a child demonstrates negative behaviors surrounding family time, the actions in (A) and (B) of this paragraph are considered.
(A) The CW specialist holds a discussion with the parent, placement provider, child, and appropriate professionals, such as a counselor or therapist, to determine if changes will aid the child in processing emotions surrounding family time. With the parent's and the placement provider's participation, the CW specialist designs a plan of action to correct the situation and assists the parent in making the necessary changes. To help the child adjust, an increase in family time frequency, supported by all parties, is considered.
(B) When negative behaviors persist after the CW specialist has talked to the child, counseling is provided to determine the cause. The CW specialist maintains awareness of the child's feelings, fears, and wishes by conducting visits with the child and observing family time, a minimum of once every calendar month.
(i) When abuse or neglect occurs during family time, a report is made to the OKDHS Abuse and Neglect Hotline and a new investigation is conducted, per OAC 340:75-3-200.
(ii) The child's significant events and reactions are documented in the appropriate KIDS screens and on Form 04KI009E, Court Report, or Form 04KI014E.
2. Sibling family time.
(1) When sibling groups, who were removed, are not placed together in temporary or permanent placements:
(A) ongoing, face-to-face contact is to begin no later than seven-calendar days after separation and is arranged a minimum of once every calendar-month, in addition to the parent visits, until the siblings are reunited in out-of-home placement or the permanency plan is achieved; and
(B) phone, social media, email, or mail contact between the siblings is arranged as frequently as possible until the siblings are reunited in out-of-home placement or the permanency plan is achieved.
(2) Sibling contacts approved by the CW specialist may be arranged by placement providers.
(3) The CW specialist verifies the face-to-face and other types of contacts with the placement provider at each monthly contact.
(4) When sibling contact is unsafe to one or more of the siblings, a temporary justification for an exception to sibling family time is documented in the case record. A detailed description of the barriers to safe sibling family time is documented in KIDS Contacts and all efforts to resolve those barriers are documented. Sibling family time is restored as soon as safely possible. The CW specialist:
(A) arranges services including counseling, when indicated, to correct the situation; and
(B) reports the status of sibling contact in the Visitation section of Form 04KI014E.
(5) When sibling contact is not feasible due to behavioral health needs, such as a sibling receiving inpatient care, the CW specialist:
(A) maintains contact with the unavailable sibling's service provider to resume face-to-face sibling family time or other forms of sibling contact as soon as it is in the siblings' best interests; and
(B) reports the status of sibling contact in the Visitation section of Form 04KI014E.
3. Family time after reasonable efforts not required to reunite or reunify the child and family finding. After a judicial finding that reasonable efforts to reunite are not required or were made and failed, between the child and parent is evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine whether to continue family time.
(1) The reasonable efforts not required to reunite or reunify the child and family finding alone does not cease or limit family time.
(2) At the court hearing when the finding is made, the CW specialist:
(i) makes a recommendation regarding termination of parental rights; and
(ii) recommends whether family time continues, is limited, or ceases.
4. Family time with a parent whose rights are terminated. In some cases, contact and family time between an older child or teenager and a parent whose rights are terminated may be appropriate. Teens and older children in other permanent placements, excluding adoptive homes, may desire a relationship with a parent who made changes and has matured since parental rights were terminated.
5. (a) Family time with relatives, extended family, and significant others. When contact and family time with relatives, extended family, and significant others is important for the child's well-being, the CW specialist:
(1) encourages, when appropriate, the child's relatives and kin to maintain or strengthen relationships with the child through family time and other forms of contact, and facilitates the contact and family time; and
(2) considers the parent's viewpoint, the child's wishes, and permanency plan when school teachers, church personnel, or other members of the community who know the child request ongoing family time or contact with the child.
(b) Child's visits or contacts from outside entities. The CW specialist determines who is appropriate to have family time or contact with the child in out-of-home placement. When the child is in emergency or temporary OKDHS custody, the parent and relatives have input into the decision. For the child in permanent OKDHS custody, the CW specialist may approve contact from outside entities, based on the child's wishes and the permanency plan.
(c) When the parent disagrees with the child's contact or family time with relatives or others, the child's attorney is consulted.
6. Opening and reading the child's mail. Mail for a child in OKDHS custody is not opened or inspected except by the child. When the CW specialist believes the mail contains:
(1) contraband, the specialist opens the mail in the child's presence without reading it; or
(2) inappropriate or harmful information, the specialist immediately notifies the CW supervisor. Court approval is required to open or read the child's mail.
(A) The CW supervisor consults with the district director regarding any concerns for the child and procedures to open or inspect the mail.
(B) When necessary, the CW supervisor contacts the DA for assistance in obtaining a court order providing appropriate restrictions.