Thank you to Voice’s for Virginia’s Children for leading the charge on ensuring children involved in foster care remain safe, stable and cared for during the COVID-19 uncertainty. We are grateful to be a part of the Foster Care Unified Network who worked together to develop the recommendations below. Thank you to everyone who is a part of the Foster Care Unified Network for continuing to advocate for children and youth affected by foster care.
Foster Care Unified Network: COVID-19 Recommendations
Our social safety net for families and children–especially those in the child welfare system–is a net with very large holes. This crisis will reveal the full extent of those holes, and also stretch them large enough that many families and children will fall through. However, the Covid-19 crisis, by creating the necessity to address these holes also creates an opportunity to identify those holes and do something NOW to fix them–both in the short term, and going forward as we recover, to ensure all families have the safety and support they need to flourish. Together the Virginia Foster Care Policy Network proposes these immediate actions to take place to ensure the safety and well-being of children in foster care.
State Government + Localities
• Visitation for children in foster care should not be disrupted. Local departments must provide, as appropriate, the best available visitation option, including video and telephonic visitation with parents and other family members, and including grandparents and siblings. Given the high mortality rate among elderly persons, departments must seek to minimize the potential trauma to children and maintain family connections. Children will be concerned for their parents and family members, and will depend on the structure of regular visits to maintain connections and to have continuing interactions with all family members — especially in the event of loss of loved ones.
• Congress has acted so that Virginia can take up the option to temporarily waive in person requirements for home visits by LDSS workers and their community based counterparts. In times where contact should be limited, a web option will provide flexibility to ensure children remain safe in their placements and continue to promote permanency for children in foster care.
• LDSS should provide guidance to birth, foster, adoptive and kinship families on best practices to reduce the effect of Coronavirus on children. This guidance should include sharing information on health precautions, guidance on navigating unexpected needs for child care and maintaining stability for children who rely on stability to heal from trauma histories.
• As of March 16, 2020, all Virginia courts are under a Judicial Emergency Order to continue all cases for 21 days with the exception of emergency matters, which include child protective orders and emergency child custody matters. For matters which cannot be continued, courts are to utilize video and telephone technology. We urge all localities and courts to utilize this technology to ensure due process is provided to all parents and children in child protection and child dependency cases, and avoid overly-relying on continuances for child protection and foster care cases.
• Broad leniency should be extended to parents in child-dependency cases by both local departments and courts, taking into account the financial and emotional stresses families will be under, including disruption of daily living, loss of work, lack of child care, and need to care for sick family members without adequate access to medical services, as well as inability to access vital services as offices close. No child in Virginia should lose their parents due to our systems’ inability to provide support to families endeavoring to achieve reunification.
• All LDSS employees should be classified as essential personnel. With the potential economic uncertainty and loss of income for many Virginians, including birth families, foster, adoptive and kinship families, there will likely be an increased need in social services. By classifying LDSS employees as essential personnel, Virginia would be
better positioned to continue providing these essential services to families during this unexpected hardship.
• Virginia should create a new covid-19-specific or disaster-relief-specific program to provide temporary cash to foster & kinship families, and youth in fostering futures. There should be minimal eligibility detail required with no asset tests and broad income guidelines, such as serving families with income under 200 percent of the federal poverty line. • State leaders to provide Instructions for staff at DSS offices, LCPA, and group/houses for social distancing and arriving for work or wellness checks to protect youth
• Youth currently enrolled in Virginia’s fostering futures program should receive a minimum 60 day waiver for the requirements to stay enrolled.
CHS will continue to monitor our foster care system’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and will keep you informed of any significant developments.