Coronavirus Cases Near 100 for Youth in California Residential Facilities

July 9, 2020 Chronicle of Social Change

Almost 100 children and teens living in residential facilities in California have caught the coronavirus, state officials confirmed this week, including infections at four group care programs in Los Angeles County.

The number of infected children is a fraction of the more than 2,600 foster youth in residential programs in the state. But it is nonetheless a sign of the rampage the virus has been on of late – striking not only prisons and nursing homes, but centers for children who have been taken from their parents due to abuse or neglect. Some youth have been sent to quarantine in trailers.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Barbara Ferrer on Wednesday suggested that deaths in the county could soon rise thanks to an increasing number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations.
“We should be worried because there are a lot less eyes on these facilities, especially now during the pandemic,” said Jacqueline Robles, a 21-year-old former foster youth working as a peer advocate for the law firm representing Los Angeles County children.

Full article here.

Lawmakers Aim To Address Problems of Aging Out of Foster Care During a Pandemic

July 8th, 2020

Aging out of the foster care system can be a challenge under normal circumstances, but during a pandemic, it can be even harder. Now with COVID-19, hundreds of young adults who are aging out of the system and still struggling to find a job or a place to live, are now also at risk of losing their support system. Also, those who might have been able to bring their case to court were unable to since courts were closed during the height of the pandemic. Courts have only started to reopen over the last month.

Full article here.

A Young Leader from Iowa asks Congress to support older foster youth

Tee, a former foster youth from Iowa shares results from FosterClub’s second poll of youth from foster care who are transitioning to adulthood, between the ages 18-24. Tee is currently in her last year studying social work and struggling to switch from hands on to online education. Tee has lost 2 of her 3 jobs as a result of COVID-19. FosterClub’s most recent poll found that,

65% of foster youth have lost employment as a result of COVID-19
41% who have applied for unemployment have not received assistance
52% have not received a stimulus check
Tee asks Congress for support stating that an increasing Chafee funds would support older youth in care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 has largely spared the state’s youngest. But in Massachusetts group homes, infections touch many more

Boston Globe, June 29, 2020

More than 8 percent of children living in Department of Children and Families group homes and similar settings have contracted the coronavirus, a figure that far outstrips the rate among young people elsewhere in the state.

The first case of COVID-19 in so-called congregate care surfaced in early April, according to DCF officials, and similar to other corners of Massachusetts, the virus has proliferated since. Of the roughly 1,700 children in state custody living in group homes or residential school settings, 144 have so far contracted the virus.

State officials have not reported any COVID deaths among children in DCF group care, and none of those who tested positive are believed to have been hospitalized, said Maria Z. Mossaides, the head of the state’s independent Office of the Child Advocate.

All but one child has recovered as of June 23, the last time state officials updated their weekly disclosure of cases at various state facilities.

But the share of children who’ve become infected stands in stark contrast to the virus’s apparently scant spread among young people statewide. Of the state’s nearly 109,000 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, about 5 percent were under the age of 20. And those roughly 5,800 cases account for less than 0.4 percent of the nearly 1.6 million people living in Massachusetts who are 19 years old or younger.

The data offer what officials say is another example of how congregate living situations, such as nursing homes or independent living centers, can be ripe for spread. They also note that children in group homes may be subject to more testing than the general population.

But among some of the state’s most vulnerable children, it also underscores another concern, advocates say: the outsized impact the virus has had on people of color. Hispanic and Black people made up 47 percent of minor children in congregate care, according to DCF’s most recent annual report, even though they account for just 19 percent of the state’s total population.

White people made up 41 percent of those in congregate care, where children live under 24-hour supervision in group settings.

State officials have released little publicly on the children in group care who have tested positive, including their age, race, or gender — information that is regularly collected and disclosed on other COVID cases statewide.

And the information that is regularly released on DCF group homes, which are run by outside vendors, is limited: It doesn’t include the number of cases among staff members, nor does it show the location of the group homes that have reported cases.

The thin disclosures have frustrated child advocates and attorneys, who say that despite formal state guidance for group homes on navigating the pandemic, they’ve heard anecdotal reports of protocols varying widely in settings where quarantining children — who often share rooms and bathrooms — is already difficult.

“It’s demonstrative that congregate care is an inherently dangerous environment,” said Cristina Freitas, an attorney and member of MA Child Welfare COVID-19 Coalition, a collection of roughly a dozen advocacy groups, law firms, and others. “They’re not built to support that type of social distancing [recommended by health officials] and a lot of these facilities, especially with DCF, only have one or two bathrooms.”

Freitas said she and her law partner and sister, Debbie Freitas, have filed public records requests seeking more information since April, only to face a tangle of responses from DCF; the state Department of Early Education and Care, which licenses group homes; and the state Department of Public Health, which handles the overall COVID data reported by the state. Each agency said it didn’t have in its “custody or control” the demographic data, or couldn’t say who did, Cristina Freitas said.

That lack of information on nearly 2,000 children in state custody points to what Debbie Freitas called a “constant struggle of transparency” within DCF, which has long released what advocates say are incomplete or delayed data.

“It’s about releasing data to save lives, not reputations or egos,” Debbie Freitas said.

State officials defended their handling of congregate care settings. They said the department’s leaders have held weekly or biweekly calls with group home providers in addition to offering mobile testing at homes starting April 10.

State officials last updated a 19-page set of guidelines for group homes on April 14, included telling homes to exclude any staff members who test positive from returning to work for at least seven days until after they were tested. The state also requires that all staff be screened before entering a facility, to further guard against potential spread.

“Child protection is the first and foremost priority of the Department of Children and Families,” said Andrea Grossman, a DCF spokeswoman. “Throughout this unprecedented pandemic, the Department has maintained close communication with providers to triage and respond to issues as they arose, such as helping providers source personal protective equipment for children and staff. We are pleased that the vast majority of children who tested positive have clinically recovered.”

Mossaides, the state’s child advocate, said within many of DCF’s 250 congregate care facilities, it’s inherently difficult to separate children. Getting a hold of personal protective equipment early in the pandemic was also challenging, and while the state allowed for emergency sites for those who have tested positive — DCF secured 21 beds across four sites — officials tried to avoid moving vulnerable children unless absolutely necessary, Mossaides said.

But she otherwise praised the steps DCF and state officials took, both in offering testing and including DCF’s medical director in decision-making on children’s cases.

“The idea that only one child is currently diagnosed with COVID-19 is a testament to what policies were implemented,” said Mossaides, who previously was executive director of Cambridge Family and Children’s Service, which manages two group homes.

Mossaides said the vast difference between the infection rates among children in group homes and children statewide could be attributed to both the cramped setting of a group home and the level of testing to which the children are subjected.

“I think we’ve done a lot more testing with this population,” she said. “I can say, literally in the first couple days and weeks thereafter, I was involved in daily briefings: ‘What do we need to do? Are we doing enough?’ In that sense, I think there was an immediate response.”

Even before the pandemic, officials have identified other worrisome trends in group homes. A state’s Child Advocate report released in November found that at least 184 children were neglected in such settings during fiscal year 2019 — a 55 percent increase over the previous year. More than 10 percent were 11 years old or younger, the report found.

Five group homes had three or more reports of abuse or neglect, Mossaides said at the time, and her office found a common thread of issues: problems with recruiting, training, and retaining sufficient staff.

With the pandemic, however, she said she’s confident the homes have the tools to be responsive.

“People are much clearer on what you need to do to make sure the environment is safe as it can be,” Mossaides said.

Article here.

Support Young People in Foster Care Beyond 21

Chronicle of Social Change

June 19, 2020

Op-ed by New York City Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner David A. Hansell shares below what New York City has been doing to support youth through extended foster care.

“No city or state across the U.S. should allow a young person to leave foster care, at any age, unless they have a stable and supportive living arrangement. And, the federal government should step in to provide states and localities with their share of funding for these youth in care over age 21, particularly during the pandemic. As we continue to face a world full of uncertainty, and added challenges, let’s make sure our most vulnerable young people — those who have been in foster care — have the support they need for as long as they need it. And especially during this crisis, we encourage other jurisdictions to follow our model and implement policies assuring that no youth leaves foster care without a place to call home.”

Op-ed here.

Support Young People in Foster Care Beyond 21

June 19th, 2020

COVID-19 has had profound impacts on young people across the country, and particularly on those in the foster care system. Many of those youth risk an abrupt loss of support and services immediately upon their exit from the system. No housing assistance. No food subsidies. No support networks. Especially in the midst of a pandemic, this needs to change.

Full article here.

HUD Announces New Grants for Foster Youth to Independence Program, Bringing Total to Over 600 Vouchers Since Inception: Nine States to Receive Nearly $100,000 in Vouchers

HUD’s Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) Initiative is an initiative that provides housing assistance and supportive services to young people with a child welfare history who are at-risk-of or experiencing homelessness. FYI, in conglomeration with local resources, will assist communities in ensuring that every young person who has had experience with the child welfare system has access to safe, affordable housing where they are supported to reach self-sufficiency by working toward their education and employment goals.

Press release here.

‘COVID-19 has left me extremely vulnerable’: Helping former foster youth stand tall

Des Moines Register

June 10, 2020

Op-ed by Tiara Mosley spent four years in the Iowa foster care system and was a 2018 FosterClub Outstanding Young Leader. 

Foster youth are feeling isolated, hopeless, and overwhelmed during this pandemic. I recently participated in a virtual congressional briefing hosted by FosterClub, Youth Villages and Juvenile Law Center to elevate the voices of the many foster youth who are facing the burden of COVID-19 alone, I hope that Congress can provide emergency aid directly to young people from foster care so their accomplishments, success and lives are not completely derailed.

Full op-ed here.

Foster Care Extension Proposed

Post-Journal – June 10, 2020
Legislation introduced recently in the state Assembly would establish a six-month moratorium on aging out of foster care. Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-Poughkeepsie, introduced A.10510 to add a new paragraph in the state’s Unconsolidated Law to require the state to continue providing the same care to youth and caregivers that would be provided had the youth not turned 18 years of age during the moratorium.

Full article here.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice Urges Congress to Provide Emergency Child Welfare Funding

May 8, 2020. In this letter, Gov. Justice urges Congress to provide emergency funding for the following programs:

  • $1 billion for Community-based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP) Grants
  • $20 million in Kinship Navigator Programs
  • $1 billion for Title IV-B Part 2
  • $500 million for CAPTA Title 1
  • $30 million for the Court Improvement Program
  • Increase FMAP for Title IV-E Prevention Program
  • Increase funding to Title IV-E Chafee by $500 million
  • Provide $100 million in one-time emergency support for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program.

Read full letter here.

Company Asks Governor To Help Foster Youth During Pandemic

WBIW.COM

(INDIANAPOLIS) – Foster Success has sent a letter to Governor Eric Holcomb asking him to take immediate steps to help Hoosier foster youth during the pandemic. The letter urges the Governor to take additional action to meet the unique health and safety needs of teens and young adults in Indiana’s child welfare system and those who have recently transitioned out of care.

Link here

NY Advocates and Service Providers Urge State Leaders to Address Child and Family Well-being

Advocates and service providers working with families impacted by the child welfare system write to Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Poole and urge the following action steps:

  • Enact a temporary moratorium on “aging out” of foster care
  • Provide COVID-19 Emergency Response Pay for foster parents, frontline staff and reunified families
  • Provide technology and support to ensure children and families remain connected:
  • Restore funding support for local kinship caregiver programs:
  • Ensure young people with current and previous foster care experience can access the benefits to which they are entitled
  • Address delays in permanency by making hearings essential business for Family Court
  • Ensuring kin and non-related foster families can be expeditiously approved as resource families:
  • Ensure all families can access necessary supports to maintain stability in the home

Read full letter here.

Letter from Secretary Ross Hunter of Washington’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families to Congressional Delegation

In this letter, Sec Hunters outlines recommends areas in need of federal stimulus, including:

  • Social Service Block Grant (SSBG) increase of $100 million for Washington State
  • Resources to serve older youth in Extended Foster Care (EFC)
  • The purchase of concrete goods, such as reliable technology for brth parents, foster parents, caregivers, service providers and others
  • The ability to provide monetary support to kinship caregivers, in both formal and informal care settings, while mitigating the risk of child abuse and neglect.

Read letter here.

Ohio Gov. DeWine will cover costs of youth “aging out” of foster care until end of pandemic

OLUMBUS, Ohio – Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state will continue to cover the costs for youth in foster care who are turning 18 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to DeWine, more than 200 people will “age out” of Ohio’s foster care system in the next three months.

“For many of these young people, their future looks uncertain because of COVID-19, whether their plan was to start a career or pursue higher education. This program will provide them with a safety net during these difficult times,” DeWine said.

Article here

California Executive Order on Older Youth In and Aging Out of Foster Care

Executive Order here

Provisions include:

  • The Department may verify foster youth status for the purpose of facilitating foster youth access to programs providing cellular telephones or other communication technology to foster youth.
  • Waiver of State extended foster care eligibility for all youth entering or reentering extended foster care requiring any physical, in-person, face-to-face application, meetings, visits, and signature requirements.
  • Suspension of the maximum age criteria for nonminor dependents who turn 21 on or after the date of this Order.

Illinois DCFS Director Letter to FCAA-IL

Letter from DCFS Director to Foster Care Alumni Association-IL to express thanks for efforts to ensure that youth in transition are provided services and resources necessary to maintain their safety and health during this difficult time. The letter outlines the steps that DCFS is taking  to address the elevated needs of youth in transition.  Letter here

Rhode Island Executive Order on Extended Foster Care

Executive Order, dated April 14, 2020, provides protections for older youth in foster care so they can continue receiving services as well as some additional assistance. Executive Order here.

The executive order suspends age requirements for youth in extended care and aftercare programs to allow provision of services after a youth turns age 21.

Eligible youth include youth who are participating in the programs (extended care and aftercare) as of Jan 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020. Services shall continue for up to 60 days after the termination of the state’s disaster declaration.

The child welfare agency shall provide funds for this order through a request out of the general fund or any other available federal or state funds that may come available.