Fresno County foster parents lose children in coronavirus custody dilemma

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The coronavirus crisis has complicated child custody transfers, and the foster care system is right in the middle of a dilemma.

Dawn and Michael Wells became foster parents for the first time in 2013 because they could see the need in Fresno County.

"We're also firm believers of people that could do something and can do something, they need to do something," said Michael Wells.

They adopted their first foster child and later took in three siblings over the last year.

They say the first of the sisters they fostered, a 6-year-old, was very neglected, had medical concerns, and wasn't enrolled in school.

But she bonded quickly with one of the three children already in the Wells home.

"We took her on vacation and made sure she had clothes and things she had never experienced before, and she really blossomed and became just truly a beautiful kid," Dawn Wells said.

We're not sharing images of the children to protect their privacy, but two of the girl's siblings came to live with them in August.

In March, after the city of Fresno issued a shelter in place order because of coronavirus, the foster parents say the children were on limited visitation with their biological parents.

They did it remotely, via video. But six days after the city's order, they say the social worker changed the classification to allow the biological parents "extended" visitation.

The next day, the county courts temporarily suspended in-person visitation between foster children and their parents, which would've calmed some worries for the Wells family.

"Part of our concern is that a lot of different families will be coming together in one place, which puts us at higher risk of contracting COVID-19," said Dawn Wells.

But the order carved out an exception for "extended" visitation, giving the Department of Social Services discretion to allow overnight visits with biological parents.

The Wells family says the Child Welfare Division decided their foster kids should spend overnight visits with their biological parents and their siblings from other foster homes.

They refused.

"We really want to keep the foster children as safe as the social workers," Dawn Wells said. "The social workers are not coming out to do face-to-face visits because it's not safe for them."

Department of Social Services director Delfino Neira told Action News they're providing services through the pandemic.

But he said he couldn't comment on the case because the records are confidential.

They took the three children from the Wells home Tuesday, a few minutes after his email exchange with us.

For more news coverage on the coronavirus and COVID-19 go to ABC30.com/coronavirus
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