The Office of the Colorado Child Protection Ombudsman (CPO) strives to envision, and work toward, a child protection system where the needs and safety of children and families are front and center. During a child welfare case, when children are placed out of their parents’ care, one of the most important components to promote the child and family’s well-being is family time, commonly known as “visitation.”
Through membership in the High-Quality Parenting Time Task Force, the CPO is honored to be part of important conversations regarding improving this vital service. The task force is made up of passionate individuals across the state who touch the child protection system in different ways, including county and state human service department staff, judges, parents, advocates, kinship providers and foster parents.
The goal of the task force is to make recommendations to Colorado’s General Assembly on how to improve parenting time services throughout the state and ensure that all families involved in the child welfare system have access to consistent and high-quality family time that can set them up for the best opportunity to reunify.
On February 8, the CPO testified in support of House Bill 23-1027 which is the first bill to include recommendations from the High-Quality Parenting Time Task Force. This bill seeks to change the term “visitation” in the Colorado Children’s Code when referring to time between a parent and a child who has been removed from their care and replace it with “family time.”
While this may seem like a small change, words matter. The term “visitation” is often used to refer to seeing someone who is incarcerated, or in a hospital setting, and is not family-centered language. Family time comes closer to capturing the importance of maintaining the critically important relationship between parents and children while working toward the goal of reunification.
HB 23-1027 also seeks to encourage family time to take place in the least restrictive, or most natural, setting possible. This means that if it is safe for family time to take place in the community, that should be the preference over an office setting. By having family time in a natural setting, parents and children can connect in a meaningful way, even if they are temporarily separated. The CPO was one of several agencies and individuals testifying in support of this bill. The most impactful testimony came from parents with lived experience in the child protection system. These parents have open child welfare cases and spoke eloquently about the barriers they face to have consistent, meaningful family time with their children. The courage and vulnerability shown through their testimony was remarkable, and surely cemented the committee’s unanimous vote in supporting this bill moving on to the next step in the legislative process.
The CPO looks forward to continuing to serve on the High-Quality Parenting Time Task Force. There is still more work to do, including analyzing and studying how all families can receive the best family time services possible, what resources are needed to promote and strengthen family time, and how those resources can be efficiently implemented throughout the state. While the work is not easy, it is worth it in order to strengthen the services available to keep Colorado’s families together, safe and thriving.