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Life-changing decisions deserve in-person fact gathering

Columnist Kristen Asleson says decisions made in regard to a child’s life should be made when people can see the real environments, behaviors and interactions.

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ROCHESTER — Making decisions that impact a person's life in a permanent way require an enormous amount of thought, planning, discussion and consultation. Those decisions take hours of thought, hours of meetings, and hours of observations before the final decision can be handed down.

Making these types of decisions quickly is difficult under normal circumstances, but in the time of COVID-19 and virtual meetings, it's nearly impossible.

In many of the Women at Work columns, I have mentioned Bellis. Bellis is a non-profit organization who provides support for anyone who has been touched by adoption. This means birth parents, adopted persons, adoptive parents and parents who have experienced termination of parental rights (TPR). The latter mentioned are a group largely overlooked as parents who need compassion and support, regardless of the reasons for the TPR.

When it comes to the termination of parental rights, there are many people from a number areas of expertise that comprise a “team” that makes the recommendations and decisions together. One of the members of the team are guardian ad litems.

Guardian ad litems (GAL) have a challenging job, and one that not everyone can do. A GAL is an advocate for a child whose welfare is a matter of the concern of court. A GAL has no control over the child, and does not provide a home for the child, but they do serve as a spokesperson for the child. They are supposed to provide independent information about the best interests of the child and make recommendations to the court in regard to short- and long-term best interests as well.

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This job is important, to say the least. But imagine that your child is placed in foster care. Both parents are under scrutiny of social workers who watch their every move while permanent placement planning is taking place.

During the months following a placement, parents undergo a lot of things to hopefully achieve reunification. This includes creating safety plans, documenting what daily routines will look like, how to coparent with one another, etc. During this time, one or both of the parents may be found unfit. If that is the case, the other parent continues on with case planning.

Behind the scenes, the child is meeting with therapists, social workers, lawyers (if they have one or having one is acknowledged), and their GAL. This entire process takes quite some time; however, the government has requirements on how long this can take.

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Imagine again that you are told you are considered a fit parent, however, due to a “fear” that may or may not materialize, your rights also will be terminated.

The case you are imagining started after life with COVID began and is ending with an adoption of the child by another party within a couple of months.

Virtual meetings for the team making this decision has been the norm for more than 18 months. Postponing these types of decisions based on virtual observations — rather than live visits — would be ideal. After all, a permanent decision is being made in regard to a child’s life and there is no real way to see environments, behaviors and interactions over a laptop screen.

Sometimes processes and procedures need to make a pivotal change, and this process may be one of them.

Kristen Asleson is owner of Midwest Virtual Assistants. Send comments and ideas to news@postbulletin.com .

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