When Video Chat is the Only Thing Holding Your Family Together

By Isobel Whitcomb on at

Lizmarie Oropeza imagined that when her 17-month old foster son, Caden, hit his milestones – pointing, learning to walk, speaking his first words – his biological family would be able to celebrate alongside her. Then coronavirus hit. In Oropeza’s home-state of Connecticut, visitation between families and children in the child welfare system has come to a halt under stay-at-home orders. Caden’s mother and grandparents haven’t seen him in three months. His father, who had planned on visiting in March, has never even met him.

“He’s dying to see him and be with him and hold him,” Oropeza told Gizmodo.

Instead, the family has to settle for video calls. Each week, for 15 minutes, they watch as Oropeza sits down with Caden in front of her phone. Oropeza keeps the visits short, because Caden (whose name has been changed to protect his privacy) can’t focus on the screen for long. Still, each week, Caden’s family watches as the little boy toddles out of the screen, totally disinterested.

“He is not into the phone at all. He doesn’t even want to look at the phone. So I sweat, following him around,” Oropeza told Gizmodo.

For the majority of kids in the child welfare system, foster care is a temporary situation that lasts a median of 14 months, according to Child Welfare Information Gateway. In most cases, reunification of families is the goal, Jennifer Bellamy, a professor of social work at the University of Denver, told Gizmodo. Regular visits between kids and their families were an essential part of the reunification process, until covid-19. But in many states, these visits are now happening over video chat.


Caden can’t focus on the screen for long. Still, each week, Caden’s family watches as the little boy toddles out of the screen, totally disinterested.