It’s no secret that child welfare systems are facing significant challenges navigating the impact of the current public health emergency. But during this difficult time, there are silver linings and lessons to learn.
In our conversations with professionals around the country, we’re hearing encouraging details about the creative ways agencies and staff are adapting to new restrictions and making changes that could improve service long after the crisis is over.
Online and creative outreach are continuing and bolstering recruitment
Most states are actively recruiting foster and adoptive families during this time, often shifting to prioritize online outreach. One state developed a new recruitment campaign with the message, “You are essential.”
Interestingly, several states told us that they’ve seen an increase in the number of foster and adoptive parents inquiring since the beginning of social distancing this spring.
Online orientation and training are allowing ongoing and increased parent participation
Most states are now delivering orientation and pre-service training online or are in the process of adapting their training for online formats. States are using live online training sessions, pre-recorded videos, training modules for parents to watch at their own pace, or a combination of approaches.
Several systems told us that many parents appreciate having online training available. Some are seeing high levels of participation because the online trainings reduce barriers to participation (e.g., child care needs, transportation requirements).
Agencies and workers are changing how they support to families
Many workers are checking in with families more frequently and say that families appreciate these points of connection.
Child welfare agencies are also providing support targeted to meet the increased needs of families who are spending more time at home. Examples include giving families boxes of cleaning products, dropping off activities, providing kits with educational tools, and providing yoga mats and sensory toys. One child welfare system gave foster families makings for ice cream sundae bars as a special treat and fun family activity.
Some states are temporarily increasing payments for foster families to help fund increased needs (e.g., additional meals while children are home all day and increased parental responsibilities to support virtual therapeutic sessions, online school, and birth family visits).
Some tribes are also increasing payments to foster families and providing flexible support to help with specific needs (e.g., outdoor play equipment for children, payments for utility costs).
The details of these additional payments—such as the amount and length of time increased payments will be in place—vary across child welfare systems.
Additional tips and tactics shared by child welfare systems
- Use video calls for licensing, birth family visits, pre-adoption match visits, and therapy sessions
- Virtual home inspections can involve having the parents walk through their home, showing each room (including using a tape measure to show compliance with space requirements), how cleaning supplies and medications are stored, where children sleep, etc.
- One state shared that they are using video calls for pre-adoptive match visits between potential adoptive parents and youth. They’re getting such positive feedback from youth about this approach that they’re exploring continuing these virtual visits even after they can resume in-person visits.
- Another state is seeing increased engagement with virtual visits between youth and their birth family, as well as for youth in virtual therapy sessions.
- Use a mobile fingerprint scanner during home inspections. Or, partner with local businesses that can do fingerprinting required for background checks.
- Loan out laptops and mobile internet hot spots to families who need them to access online training. Another option is mailing recorded trainings on DVDs or jump drives to families if they would be able to watch them at home.
- Offer various forms of virtual support sessions. One child welfare system provided mindfulness sessions by a foster parent who has experience in healing and talking circles. The sessions help foster parents get re-grounded even when there is increased stress in their homes. Both families and workers appreciated these sessions.
- Proactively check-in with current foster families to find out whether they would feel comfortable having a child who has been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19 placed with them. Doing this lets workers know ahead of time what placement options they have available.
- Several agencies have been pleasantly surprised at how many current foster parents have expressed openness to having children placed with them who have been exposed or tested positive. You may find it helpful to ask foster parents both about their openness to new placements and about their safety plan in case someone in their home becomes sick.
We’re here to help!
We applaud the flexible and inventive strategies child welfare agencies are using and continue our deep appreciation for the commitment that prospective and current foster, adoptive, and kinship families are showing for children!
As always, AdoptUSKids is here to support your work to recruit, respond to, develop, and support families for children in foster care. Please reach out to us if you have questions, ideas to share, or would like capacity-building assistance: firstname.lastname@example.org.