Public Defender Fights Blanket Ban on Supervised Family Visits

Accusing Illinois state officials of disregarding the rights of families during the coronavirus pandemic, a top public defender has taken the extraordinary step of fighting for a temporary restraining order against the Department of Children and Family Services, which has barred most family visits.

In a court filing publicized by tweet Friday, Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli said the child welfare agency’s suspension of all supervised visits between parents and their children in foster care has been done with “no thought to the tragic results on families, siblings, and our communities.

In Chicago, Campanelli tweeted, the majority of those parents are “are black poor families who are suffering.” 

Campanelli’s office is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to halt the blanket suspension and to force the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to determine whether supervised family visits can happen on a case-by-case basis. 

“Many parents have very young children who cannot communicate via phone or video conferencing, and because of this ban they are deprived of the opportunity to see, touch and hold their young children, Even mothers who breastfeed their infant children are prevented from doing so,” Campanelli said in an op-ed that ran Thursday in the Chicago Sun-Times.

In Illinois, the suspended in-person visits were supposed to have been replaced in all cases by virtual visits using smartphones or online video platforms. But Gassenheimer said the state child welfare agency has not guaranteed those, leaving it up to contracted foster care providers with limited ability to make sure they take place.

“It’s disappointing, to be sure,” said Melissa Staas, a supervising attorney for Legal Aid Chicago. 

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