State Information on COVID-19 and Child Welfare

AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY DC
Click for the latest state news and advocacy.

Proposal cuts $130 million from Texas health agency to ease coronavirus-battered budget

July 9, 2020 The Statesman

State officials have proposed cutting $133 million in health services from the current budget, whittling away dollars in women’s health, child abuse protection and services for adults and children with disabilities, according to advocates.

The cuts are in response to a May 20 directive from Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen to state agencies to cut 5% from their current two-year budgets as the state grapples with the spread of the coronavirus and a weakening economy. The proposal by Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which consumes the largest portion of the state’s spending after education, could potentially reverse legislative requirements to better oversee child care facilities and court-ordered mandates to improve the state’s beleaguered foster care system.

The proposal is also sparse on details about how women’s health, family violence prevention programs and services for individuals with traumatic brain injuries — all mentioned as possible cuts — would be affected.

Full article here.

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.

COVID-19 outbreaks in AZ child detention centers worry advocates

July 8th, 2020

As COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations continue to reach record levels in Arizona, some advocates worry that children in detention and rehabilitation centers are at risk and in the blind spot of public health agencies that are grappling with a furious spread of the illness in the broader community.

Arizona is the site of one of the largest outbreaks at a child rehabilitation center in the country, with the Mingus Mountain Academy having 92 confirmed COVID-19 cases among the children it houses. Another 20 staff members tested positive for the virus.

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.

SC is beginning to locate school children who went silent amid coronavirus pandemic

July 8th, 2020

South Carolina is starting to locate many of the children whom schools have not heard from since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, state data show.

As of July 7, schools have been able to reach 5,654 more students than last month, in which schools reported being unable to reach a total of 16,085 students since in-person classes were closed on March 16, according to survey data and a previous article from The State.

Full article here.

Foster Care’s New Reality: COVID-19 creates new challenges for kids, families

July 8th, 2020

Foster children face a number of obstacles during normal times, but this pandemic has stacked even more odds against them and their caregivers. The virus has impacted weekly supervised visits, developmental therapy, court cases pending, even adoptions.Resource parents help our county’s most vulnerable children. They play a critical role in helping build a bridge, providing a safe, supportive home for children who are unable to live with their birth parents due to neglect or substance abuse. 

Full article here.

Foster parent speaks out after contracting COVID-19 following a DSS family visit

July 7th, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tesa Conerly, a foster parent, is speaking out after she says her foster children got sick following a family visit.

She was hospitalized for a week as a result of COVID-19. She says her young foster children were accompanied by a case worker with the South Carolina Department of Social Services when they were visiting their biological family.

Full article here.

Coronavirus’s Arrival in California Juvenile Lockup Sparks Concern

July 6th, 2020

As the coronavirus has torn through California’s incarcerated population, nine young people locked up in one of the state’s youth prisons have tested positive for it – a worrisome sign for the Division of Juvenile Justice that has so far avoided the mass outbreaks of the adult prisons. The state agency reports three infections were identified last month at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton, with six more coming over the weekend. At least one of the positive tests came as a result of a young person transferred to the prison during the pandemic.

Full article here.

A different call to action to stop child abuse during coronavirus pandemic

July 3rd, 2020

Along with the delivery of prevention programming, the Child Abuse Prevention Association has provided care to foster children since 1985 through its Open Arms Children’s Home and foster care programs. COVID-19 brought a new set of challenges not just to CAPA but to everyone. From telecommuting to personal protection equipment to homeschooling, we all have worked outside of any box we’ve ever known trying to navigate the waters of a global pandemic.

Full article here.

New York City Foster Care Cancels Some Reform Efforts Due To Pandemic Funding Hit

July 3rd, 2020

This week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council approved a budget of just over $88 billion for the coming fiscal year, nearly four months into a coronavirus pandemic that created a $9 billion revenue shortage. The city’s foster care and juvenile justice agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, will see its smallest budget of de Blasio’s (D) two terms in office, with roughly $2.7 billion for the 2021 fiscal year, about 15% less than two years ago.   
 

Full article here.

When Video Chat Is the Only Thing Holding Your Family Together

July 1st, 2020

Lizmarie Oropeza imagined that when her 17-month old foster son, Caden, hit his milestones—pointing, learning to walk, speaking his first words—his biological family would be able to celebrate alongside her. Then coronavirus hit. In Oropeza’s home-state of Connecticut, visitation between families and children in the child welfare system has come to a halt under stay-at-home orders.

Full article here.

15,000 More Arkansas Children Living in Poverty, Report Shows

June 30th, 2020

KUAF

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released the 31st edition of its Kids Count Data Book. The annual report looks at child well-being in the United States by analyzing economics, health, education, and family and community. While Arkansas’ overall ranking of childhood well-being remained the same as last year’s report at 40th, the state’s economic well-being rank dropped significantly from 36th to 46th.

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.

Adoptions delayed for months by coronavirus closings to get their day in court

Tribune Content Agency – June 29, 2020


Foster families whose adoption plans got derailed by court closures prompted by the coronavirus crisis are set to receive some relief, with the judicial system no longer requiring in-person hearings. That means families whose hearings were delayed in some cases until 2021 may see their adoptions become legal in the next month or two.

Full article here.

New COVID-19 Outbreak At One Of California’s Youth Prisons—As Counties Resume Sending Kids Into The State’s Long-Broken System

June 25th, 2020

Since LA County sends more kids to DJJ than any other county, given all the other chronic problems that make the state’s youth facilities an unhealthy, non-rehabilitative or healing environment for any kid (as WLA and our writers have repeatedly reported), this is one more on a long list of reasons to turn the spigot off at our end — now not later.

Full article here.

How the pandemic is testing the foster care system

June 25th, 2020

For months, COVID-19 has been disrupting families — and that includes foster families. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S.

And it’s not just foster families and children feeling the weight of the pandemic. The whole system has ground to a halt: The courts are backed up. Social workers can’t safely enter homes to check on kids. And reports to state abuse hotlines are down, in some states as much as 50%.

Full article here.

During Coronavirus, High-Quality Legal Representation Can Be a Lifesaver for Families

June 24th, 2020

This year, there likely will be many fewer family reunifications to celebrate. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted our nation’s child welfare system, which in the best of times struggles to reunite the families it is tasked with helping.

But states and counties that have come to rely on interdisciplinary legal representation – a model that includes social workers and peer advocates working alongside attorneys to fight for parents and children – have overcome the new barriers imposed by the pandemic to help families reunify.

Full article here.

Risk factors for child abuse have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis

June 23rd, 2020

After several weeks of stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, it is clear we are facing a crisis in child maltreatment. Well-known risk factors for the incidence of child abuse have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

At the same time, our ability to identify children experiencing maltreatment has been drastically limited by stay-at-home orders and school closures. As long as the community organizations that most frequently serve our children are closed or restricted, it will be necessary for our local and national leaders to bring together our multidisciplinary colleagues and different groups of people together find new ways to identify and prevent child abuse.

Full article here.