Federal Legislation to #StopTheClock and Help Families Reunify During the COVID-19 Crisis

The Suspend the Timeline Not Parental Rights During a Public Health Crisis Act will prevent the cruel outcome of a global pandemic causing parents to lose their parental rights permanently.

We cannot permanently separate families because of a pandemic.  

The Shriver Center is proud to stand with Representative Gwen Moore and other champions for family integrity in supporting H.R.7976, The Suspend the Timeline Not Parental Rights During a Public Health Crisis Act. This legislation aims to preserve the bonds between children and parents and keep families together by suspending the timeline in the Adoption and Safe Families Act (“ASFA”) in any public health crisis. 

ASFA is a federal law that requires states to file petitions to terminate parental rights (“TPR petitions”) for the parent(s) of any child that has spent 15 of the previous 22 months in foster placements. Termination of parental rights, often considered the “civil death penalty” by courts, legal advocates, and impacted families, forever makes parents and children legal strangers to one another, a cruel attempt of the legal system to nullify a child’s biology, familial connection, ancestral lineage, and cultural heritage. ASFA’s timeline is a barrier to keeping families together and in communities; it ties the hands of local judges and authorities who feel compelled to proceed with TPR petitions even when there is no reason other than the timeline to do so.

In an effort to reunify with their children, many parents, disproportionately parents of color, work to complete services and follow visitation schedules. Even without an unprecedented pandemic wreaking havoc on parents’ efforts, the ASFA timeline often penalizes parents for systemic failures, such as long waitlists for services, that delay reunification beyond 15 months. COVID-19 has caused additional service delays and jurisdictions like Illinois to ban or limit visitation, leaving parents unable to complete the requirements for reunification while the ASFA clock continues to run. 

Preventing family separation is a cornerstone of safe, healthy, and thriving families and communities. The foster system must prioritize family reunification always and especially during public health crises, and to do that, Congress must #StopTheClock on the ASFA timeline and pass H.R.7976.

Take action by telling Congress we cannot allow the pandemic to cause permanent separation of families!

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