Family Court Shutdown due to Coronavirus Could Cause Termination of Parental Rights for Countless Families
Federal laws require states to initiate termination of parental rights when a child has been in foster care for 15 of the last 22 months. With family courts shutting down across the country due to the Coronavirus outbreak, delaying reunification and adjudication hearings, could families face termination of their parental rights without due process? CPS must have a signed order by a judge in order to remove a child from their home, unless the agency feels a child is in imminent danger, at which time the agency can proceed with an “emergency removal." The agency must then seek the approval of a judge on the following business day. At that time, the family is likely assigned an attorney or has already sought legal counsel to contest the removal and petition the court to return the child home. With the potential spread of COVID-19, family courts have closed or reduced caseloads. According to the report by Kramer, regarding a statement from the New York State Office of Court Administration, judges are holding hearings by phone and video, only on “essential/emergency” matters. The administration did not respond to the author's request for further comments on their story. Kramer states, according to attorneys who represent parents, judges are continuing to hear petitions from the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) seeking to remove children from their homes and place them in foster care, but they are not willing to hear motions by parents seeking to return children home.