The Child and Family Service Agencies (CFSA) in Washington, D.C. has made changes to services in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. While the government agency is still providing services, the front-line staff and supervisors of Program Operations are under partial telework status. While the building is closed to the public, supervisors are still required to communicate with employees and monitor their work daily. Additionally, weekly supervision will continue by phone.

One of the greatest changes the agency is facing during this time is limited to visitation. While it is necessary for child welfare workers to maintain contact with their clients, the threat of the pandemic puts a strain on how to achieve the best quality of care. Currently, face-to-face visitations are limited. However, in situations that warrant the event, workers must assess for COVID-19 by asking if the parent or the child has a lower respiratory illness, if anyone in the household has been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19, and if anyone in the household has recently traveled to or from a country with known local spreads of COVID-19. If the answer to all three questions are no, face-to-face visitation may continue. However, if the answer to any of the above are yes, face-to-face visitation is restricted, but clients may be served via Skype, FaceTime, or other video conference applications.

However, these guidelines are not the same for everyone. Those working for Child Protective Services (CPS) and the child abuse hotline are on normal operating status. While CFSA is closing buildings to the public, the local assessment center remains available for children to receive screening prior to a placement or replacement. Additionally, if visits are not able to be held externally, family/child visitations may take place in the assessment center as well. Additionally, with the exception of facilities under quarantine, social workers will continue to respond to reports of abuse and neglect appropriately. Hotline staff are now required to assess for COVID-19 by asking the three questions previously listed. Once a social worker arrives at the scene, they must also assess for COVID-19. Social workers who are on scene with individuals who may be at risk of COVID-19 must immediately halt the investigation and report to their direct supervisor for the next steps. In extreme cases, CFSA staff will work alongside the Metropolitan Police Department and may request EMTs.

These are unprecedented times for not only the nation but for the entire world. While this is a time of fear and anxiety for all populations, children are facing unfamiliar emotions and confusion. In response, The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) published an informational about COVID-19 and proper ways for schools to respond to the pandemic. Notably, UNICEF acknowledged the importance of helping children cope with the stress of the situation and how to identify stress among children (withdrawn, clinginess, bedwetting, anger, etc.). It is suggested to follow daily routines to the best extent possible, and work with children to create new routines in an ever-changing environment. UNICEF goes on to remind adults and children not to stigmatize anyone who is ill, but to remain educated, self-protected, and ask questions when necessary. Lastly, readers are reminded to provide age-specific health education. This includes singing songs about hygiene and handwashing, using puppets, introducing the topic of social distancing, and discussing reactions and how to respond to and prevent stigmatization.

While UNICEF offers important guidelines for schools and families, it is important to note that things are changing daily. Children cannot stay at home only when they are feeling ill when schools are being shut down. As businesses and schools are closing, children are put at higher risks of abuse and neglect, and caregivers struggle to provide adequate care for their children. Indeed, many families depend on schools as a means of childcare and to provide meals for their children. During this time of crisis, it is the ethical responsibility for child welfare agencies to stay up to date and remain proactive in offering the best quality of care to their clients, and the population as a whole.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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