On Thursday, January 21, 2021, the President issued his National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness. The 200-page document outlines new and future executive orders and steps the Administration intends to take regarding COVID-19. Of particular interest for the child welfare community will be actions on Goal Five: Safely reopen schools, businesses, and travel while protecting workers and Goal Six: Protect those most at risk and advance equity, including across racial, ethnic, and rural/urban lines.
How schools, early childhood education, and child care are reopened, and education is provided is critical to child welfare, especially when approximately 80 percent of the foster care population is age 14 or younger.
Goal five also addresses workforce safety, another matter of significance for child welfare. Social workers and other parts of the child welfare workforce are engaged in activities such as regular home visits and working in small and isolated residential care that require ongoing contact even when there are COVID outbreaks, which makes workforce protection vital to an agency’s duties and mission.
Goal six is important since it deals with the issue of racial equity, including how we provide human services in urban and rural areas that have become especially isolated since the start of the pandemic. The key actions under this goal include:
- Establishing a Health Equity Task Force.
- Increasing data collection and reporting for high-risk groups.
- Ensuring equitable access to critical COVID-19 PPE, tests, therapies, and vaccines.
- Expanding access to high-quality health care.
- Expanding the clinical and public health workforce, including community-based workers.
- Strengthening the social service safety net to address unmet basic needs.
- Supporting communities most at-risk for COVID-19.
The document outlines some immediate steps and some actions that will take congressional action. Under strengthening the social safety net, the Administration states that, “The Administration is committed to addressing these needs in multiple ways, including providing paid sick leave, child care support and rental assistance, with Congressional appropriations. Additionally, it will undertake agency actions to designate COVID-19 health equity leads and extend flexibilities to select programs during the pandemic, as well support community-based, multi-sector efforts to align health and social interventions.”
Regarding access to education, the report indicates that 15 percent of families making less than $35,000 a year are sometimes or never are able to access required devices (computers, etc.). Twenty-nine percent of these low-income families indicate they are spending much less time on education. Children in foster care are already challenged when it comes to education since many have been uprooted from their schools, and there is a disproportionate share of the K-12 population with special education needs and disabilities.
The workforce protections include an executive order that directs the Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in consultation with CDC, to issue updated guidance on COVID-19 worker protections. Some of these workplace protections will be temporary as needed. The Administration says, “The United States is committed to expanding the availability of PPE for frontline and essential workers. The White House COVID Response team will work with relevant agencies to immediately engage purchases, purchase guarantees, and investments, invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950 (DPA) as necessary, to ensure the availability of critical PPE and end shortages that have required workers to reuse masks and other protective supplies.”
CWLA will be working to make sure that child welfare populations and workforce are covered by these actions as they are implemented.