In this series of posts, we highlight some of the ways our jurisdictional partners are rapidly adapting systems to better serve children and families during the COVID-19 crisis, and how our fellows are supporting their efforts.
An update from Foster America Fellow Asad Bandeali, from his position in the Planning Resource & Organizational Development [P.R.O.D.] Unit within St. Louis County (MN) Public Health and Human Services:
“St. Louis County and the City of Duluth are collaborating to better understand the needs of the underrepresented communities, and help connect those communities to available resources, during the COVID-19 crisis.
The work began as a city-county information sharing effort with a limited scope: to develop a webpage with comprehensive information about resources available during the pandemic. I was brought in to help bring an equity lens to the work, along with representatives of the city’s Human Rights and Community Engagement offices. Our work has evolved rapidly, with a current purpose of ‘ensuring marginalized communities have access to community resources during the pandemic crisis with sufficiency and non-duplicative effort.’
To do that, we started by asking questions: Who are the marginalized communities? What barriers are they currently facing? How can we better prioritize efforts to serve them? We then sought to identify the leaders and champions that other community members come to for guidance and support. We asked what organizations are already serving their needs, and how we might help to extend their reach. We worked with community champions both to learn more about the communities’ specific needs and to disperse information about available resources. The work group has transitioned to thinking through the long-term impact of COVID on marginalized communities and continuing the effort to identify and address needs via community champions.”
When the Vermont House Committee on Human Services proposed suspending in-person family visits for children in foster care during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cohort 2 alum, Allison Green, now Legal Director at the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC), stepped in. In mid-April, she provided testimony urging the Committee to reconsider their proposed suspension of in-person parent-child visits.
As Allison writes:
“States can and do make case-by-case determinations that balance compliance with COVID-19 directives with the critical importance of family time to maintain family connections, promote healthy attachment, and achieve reunification. NACC has continued to hear stories from the field where safe, socially distanced, in-person family time is occurring, such as, for example, by taking a walk together outside, or having a family ‘dance off’ from a healthy distance. There are safe ways to allow continued, enriching contact between parents and children, and those solutions are already being utilized across counties and states nationwide.”
“Federal guidance and best practice firmly recommend against blanket cessation of in-person family time and emphasize the need for ‘continued family time, especially in times of crisis and heightened anxiety.’”
“Families outside the child welfare system have the ability to design the type of contact they will have during this period; children and parents in the system should have the same opportunity to let their wishes be known and to be a part of crafting what family time should look like for their own family.”
To read the full text of Allison’s testimony, click here.
The State of Vermont never ended up adopting the proposed suspension on in-person visits and, since its reopening in late-May, is focusing on how to facilitate safe in-person family time, not whether to allow these visits at all.
Foster America Fellow Mollie Bradlee shares a new resource from her host agency, the Colorado Department of Human Services (DHS):
“With the abrupt transition to online learning by school districts across Colorado, the state saw a sudden, marked decrease in hotline calls reporting potential child abuse and neglect. Without regular face-to-face contact, we knew that teachers were likely struggling to identify signs that some students and their families needed more support and to distinguish when situations were serious safety concerns that merited a hotline report.
To address this need, a collaborative group was quickly formed, including representatives from DHS, the state Department of Education, local school districts, and other partners. I was asked to join because of my work managing a Pay for Success project to improve educational engagement for youth in foster care.
The result is our new Teacher Toolkit. The toolkit addresses the new online learning reality and is filled with age-appropriate journal prompts and other activities to explore students’ experiences and emotions during this challenging time. These activities give students an outlet for pandemic-related fears and frustrations and foster supportive connections with teachers and peers. It also includes information to help educators spot worrisome changes in safety and well-being, how to report suspected abuse or neglect, and questions to consider when making a report.
We hope the toolkit gives teachers practical guidance for supporting children in an online learning environment and enhances collaboration between education and child welfare partners.”
In April, Foster America Fellow Wade Carlson helped New Mexico’s Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) leverage federal stimulus funding to increase financial support to foster families.
“Like many other states, Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) of New Mexico has been striving to meet the needs of the population we serve during this difficult time. Our agency provides behavioral health services, protective services, early childhood services, and juvenile justice services. Although we’re on track to incur in excess of $1 million of unbudgeted expense, our state legislators are discussing major state-wide budget cuts. And, while we’re doing everything possible to meet the needs of our State’s foster families and children, it’s critical that we identify and pursue all federal COVID-19 funding opportunities as they become available.”
Learn more from our partners at the Annie E. Casey Foundation: https://www.aecf.org/blog/some-states-may-be-able-to-increase-foster-parent-payments-during-covid-19/
Cohort 1 alum and Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) Legislative Liaison Adam Williams sends this update:
“Last week, Governor Gina Raimondo signed Executive Order 20-26, extending state support for young adults who would otherwise have aged out of foster care during this crisis. As we know, young people leaving care are vulnerable in the best of times—studies show that approximately 1 in 3 former foster youth experience an episode of homelessness by age 26. Now is the worst time imaginable for these young adults to attempt independence, while many are working in industries that have shut down or that place them at high risk of illness. The state’s quick action will provide them a chance at a better start.
When DCYF Acting Director Kevin Aucoin first asked me to research what other states were doing to protect foster youth during the COVID-19 crisis, I immediately reached out to my Foster America colleagues for help. Within 48 hours, I received information, drafts of legislation and executive orders, and offers of assistance from experts all across the country. The strength of the Foster America network played a key role in our DCYF team’s ability to draft this executive order that authorizes much-needed support for young people in a matter of days, rather than weeks.”
Heather Wilson, Foster America Fellow with the Scott County (Minnesota) Department of Health and Human Services, reports:
“Our leadership here at Scott County Children’s Services has done a tremendous job of quickly gathering information from counties in states that were hit earliest by the crisis, in order to develop protocols to protect family and worker safety. Likewise, our frontline staff have shown extraordinary flexibility—responding to almost daily procedural updates, including how to access and utilize personal protective equipment.
One pressing challenge has been managing the day-to-day family contacts necessary to keep children safe. Social workers have begun asking screening questions before going out to visit a home. If there has been any recent illness, they confer with a supervisor about whether there is an immediate safety concern that necessitates a home visit, or whether the goals of that visit can be met via remote communication. The County is also keeping an eye on equity, working with private-sector partners to secure donations of laptops and tablets when needed to facilitate critical family connections.
I originally came to Scott County to organize a community movement for child abuse prevention. In the short term, however, I have been pleased to contribute my background in virtual communications to support the immediate need to deploy and train frontline staff in the use of these new tools, including how to protect client confidentiality.”