The Supreme Court of Texas has issued two recent Emergency Orders, namely First Emergency Order, Misc. Docket No. 20-9042, dated March 13, 2020 and Third Emergency Order, Misc. Docket No. 20-9044, dated March 19, 2020, regarding the applicability of emergency orders to child protection cases on file across the state. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many courts have issued standing and temporary orders identifying essential and non-essential matters and hearings, and suspending various types of hearings and procedures, including pre-trial settings, bench and jury trials, and family visitation. These times are trying for everyone involved. Parents, children, attorneys, and the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) are looking to judges for leadership at this time, and we encourage judges to engage in thoughtful, creative, best practice solutions that promote the child’s best interest, ensure the child’s safety, and create solutions that enable reunification as expeditiously as possible if that is the goal. Please read through this communique for helpful suggestions and updates about suggested best practices regarding visitation, and for related links at the conclusion.
Regarding in-person visitation, DFPS believes it is important to maintain its responsibilities associated with facilitating parent-child visits but is concerned about the health and safety of all involved. Until further notice, DFPS will be requesting that orders be modified to authorize alternate means of contact besides face-to-face contact wherever possible, if orders authorizing virtual visitation are not already in place. The specific means of contact will vary across localities as will the technology available to parties, especially parents. Technology options for visitation might include Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, GoToMeeting, and Zoom.
When considering what virtual communication options are most accessible to the parties, judges can best support families on their docket by being flexible and refraining from ordering that such contact occur via a specific type of technology. Computer-based options may be less available to parents than to professionals and foster parents who may be more likely to have access to laptops, tablets, and/or Wi-Fi. Parents may have restrictive data plans or be dependent on phones which do not have a phone video application such as FaceTime. If there is a challenge presented by sharing phone numbers, individuals can set up a Google Voice number instead. For parent-child visits that occur in the homes of relatives or other caregivers, this guidance may not be applicable, and courts are encouraged to honor existing visitation schedules that the parties can agree to maintain while still minimizing the risk of exposure and contamination. DFPS is opting to primarily use GoToMeeting and will be providing access and instructions for use to its staff and network, and the Children’s Commission will share that information with our network as well.
Judges may also consider whether virtual visits could increase in duration or frequency since children may not see their parents in person for an extended period of time. Contact with and communication from parents may also help children in substitute care to address their fears about what is happening in their lives such as school closures and disruptions in routine. Finally, the inability of a parent to participate in family time or visitation because of a lack of access to alternate means of visitation should be considered when reviewing a parent’s progress under a service plan that requires the parent to attend visitation. Judges might consider whether it is feasible to amend service plans or orders incorporating elements of a service plan to reflect that visitation as well as other services such as therapy and parent coaching are being offered and accomplished virtually.
Please link here to review:
- The safe visitation protocol issued by DFPS.
- The Children’s Commission COVID-19 webpage which includes the Supreme Court Emergency Orders and a list of counties that have issued orders suspending or amending visitation orders as well as other matters.
Judges, if you have suspended visitation either temporarily or until further notice, or if you have issued orders modifying visitation, please share your information with the Children’s Commission by emailing this information and a PDF of your orders to
to ensure that the COVID-19 webpage will continue to be a current and helpful resource.