Residential Practice in COVID
Family and Parent Issues
During a pandemic, an agency must maintain its focus on assisting families, an important factor of which involves family visitation. In a time of crisis and social distancing, typical face-to-face family visitation will be unable to take place as this type of contact can promote the spread of a virus and post a threat to public health and safety. Adjusting to virtual visitation will be difficult for children and for parents, especially for children with special needs who depend upon consistency and predictability. Staff should discuss any and all adjustments to visitation with families in the most sensitive of ways, with a sense of empathy, confirming that these changes are not a punishment, but rather, a means to keep their children as safe as possible. Staff must also keep in mind that the sudden change to visitation will likely further traumatize both the children and their parents, and further compound trauma related to the existing separation due to foster care placement, and trauma experienced by the pandemic. This can result in feelings of hopelessness as families cannot go to court or continue to work towards the goals of their service plans in the same way. The messaging that is provided to families is critical to ensure that permanency planning goals do not change as a result of the pandemic and that agencies will continue to support the families in every way possible, even if through modified means. In lieu of in-person visitation, increased virtual visitation should take place so children can see their families as much as possible.
While many individuals and families have access to smartphones and tablets with video features, it’s important to remember that many do not. During the onset of a pandemic that furthers family separation, every single family member should be assessed for proper technology to support virtual visitation. For those without, the agency should quickly work to obtain these for the families so that virtual visits can begin as soon as possible. The local Department of Education may provide tablets or personal devices to children and youth, but it is important to confirm that children will have access to other options in the vent their Department of Education cannot, or does not, provide devices quickly. It is important to confirm that these children have access to another option in the event there is a delay with receiving their tablets, or in the event that they break, as such back-up plans must be in place to ensure that children do not miss visits with their families because of limited technology being a barrier.
As families move from in-person to virtual visitation, they will need guidance and support about how to spend time with their children in a meaningful and supportive way. A Virtual Visit Tip Sheet is included as part of this guide to help prepare and support families with this significant change. Creativity is key and this tip sheet is just a starting point!
Keeping Parents Informed
As the physical contact between children and parents continues to decrease over time, the concern for their children’s safety will likely increase, especially given the high numbers of individuals on campus increasing risk for the spread of a virus. It is important to inform families about all precautions being taken on campus at the start of a pandemic, as well as throughout as the situation changes. Parents will need these updates to ease their minds as much as possible in knowing that staff on campus are doing everything they can to care for and protect, their children. With the inability to see and meet with families in person, increased remote check-ins should take place as frequently as possible between families and staff. If there are no updates or concerns to report about a child’s health or their remote learning, it will be helpful for staff to discuss a check-in plan with each family individually as some families may be overwhelmed by daily or constant phone calls while other families will appreciate or need such a frequency.
If and when home visits continue to take place for birth families, it is absolutely necessary that all staff be equipped with proper PPE to ensure the safety of themselves as well as the families they visit. Home visits should only take place for families where safety risks during a pandemic are high. Families considered to be at high risk include those with children who were recently trial or final discharged to the family’s care, homes with open investigations by the Office of Special Investigation, unstable placements in jeopardy of disruption, new intakes or placements, and high profile cases. Although considered high risk, children with significant medical or mental health needs should not necessarily be visited in the home, especially medically fragile children who have an increased vulnerability to illness. Instead, these families should receive daily check-ins by phone or other virtual means.
Home Visit Safety
In the event that staff cannot access PPE from the agency, they are encouraged to be creative to cover their faces, specifically their mouths and noses, which can include bandanas or t-shirts. When scheduling and prior to conducting home visits, staff must ask a series of questions to confirm that no one in the household is sick or symptomatic. These questions should be specific to each family member, and the home visit should only take place if no one in the home has experienced symptoms in the most recent seven days. During a home visit, staff and family members should stay six feet apart from one another and both wear PPE or facial coverings. Staff should ask these questions when scheduling home visits, and again immediately before showing up at the home, and in the event that someone is not feeling well, the home visit should be canceled and symptoms should be reported to the direct supervisor. If the staff show up for a home visit and witness a family member with unreported symptoms, they should leave the home immediately and call their supervisor.
Mandated Casework Contacts
ACS Emergency Guidance for Foster Care Providers
Virtual Visit Tip Sheet
Rise COVID Visiting Tips
Parent Tip Sheet for Video Visits
Agency and Home Visit Guidance