COVID-19 extension of child welfare caseworker visits by alternative means

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has informed counties of extensions of various COVID-19 policies for child welfare services caseworker visits. ACIN I-33-20, summarized here, about monthly caseworker visits using alternative contact methods is extended until the end of the COVID-19 State of Emergency.  (ACL 20-73, June 26, 2020.)

COVID-19 extension of various foster care and child welfare changes

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has informed counties of extensions of various COVID-19 policies for foster care and child welfare services.  The following guidance is extended until the end of the COVID-19 State of Emergency:  ACL 20-33, summarized here, about placement preservation in the event of exposure to, symptoms of or a positive test for COVID-19, and ACL 20-58, child welfare reassessments during the COVID-19 State of Emergency.

The following guidance is extended through August 4, 2020: ACIN I-32-20, summarized here, verification of foster care status for cell phone access.  ACL 20-74 (June 26, 2020).

COVID-19 resuming in-person visitation for dependent children and wards

In ACL 20-25, summarized here, the California Department of Social Services provided guidance regarding waiver of in-person monthly caseworker visits for dependent children and wards.  County child welfare agencies and juvenile probation departments are to resume requirements in-person visits for children, wards and nonminor dependents effective July 1, 2020.

Before conducting an in-person visit, county staff should screen for COVID-19.  If someone in the household has been exposed to COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms, the caseworker should obtain essential protective gear (gloves, face covering, hand soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant) before the in-person visit.

Visits may be conducted by videoconference on a case-by-case basis, if the state, county, or local public health department provides direction and/or shifts back to Stage 1, the family or caregiver refuses entry because of their COVID-19 related concerns, or the family, caregiver, child, or someone else in the household is experiencing symptoms of or has tested positive for COVID-19.  If in-person contact is not possible because of one of these exceptions, the flexibilities in ACL 20-25 may be used through August 14, 2020.  (ACL 20-70, June 17, 2020.)

COVID-19 financial support for at risk families

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has provided information about financial support for eligible at-risk families with child welfare contact during the COVID-19 state of emergency.  Households are eligible if they meet one of the following criteria with a case open at any time in April, 2020 or a new case opened in May or June, 2020:

  • Households with a Family Maintenance service component without a subsequent entry into Foster Care.
  • Households with an Emergency Response service component without a subsequent entry into Foster Care.
  • Households with a substantiated Emergency Response referral, without an accompanying case opening or entry into Foster Care.
  • Households with an inconclusive Emergency Response referral, without an accompanying case opening or entry into Foster Care, where the Structured Decision Making Risk Assessment was considered high or very high.
  • Probation cases where children or youth were at imminent or serious risk of removal or candidates for foster care.

Eligible households will be issued prepaid cards. The assistance payment will be $200 per month for April, May and June, 2020 or $400 per month for an eligible household with three or more children at risk of entering Foster Care.  Households with cases opened in May will receive the payment for May and June, and households with cases opened in June will receive the payment for June.

These payments will not count as income for CalWORKs or CalFresh.  (ACIN I-44-20, June 1, 2020.)

COVID-19 child welfare services visits by videoconference

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance authorizing child welfare services monthly caseworker visits to be done by videoconference when an emergency prohibits or limits face-to-face contact.  The decision to do monthly caseworker visits by videoconference must be made on a case by case basis.

Child and Family Service case reviews can be done by videoconference but that decision must be made based on the circumstances of the case using specified factors. (ACIN I-33-20, April 21, 2020.)

COVID-19 placement preservation guidance

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance to on meeting the placement preservation needs of children and nonminor dependents in out-of-home placements where a child or caregiver is exposed to COVID-19.

When there is exposure to COVID-19 but circumstances do not require hospital admission, children should be cared for at home.  Children who are experiencing mild or moderate symptoms of COVID-19 or who have been exposed to COVID-19 should not be relocated or issued a 14-day notice.  The fact that a child has been exposed to or tests positive for COVID-19 is not in and of itself a reason for placing the child into group care.  The child welfare system must prioritize placement preservation.  However, children in congregate care should continue to be reunified with their family or moved into home-based care setting as appropriate.

For any requests for unplanned discharge or 14-day notice for a child, families and facilities should consider all alternatives to maintain the child in the home, including relocating the children to other bedrooms, units or homes on the property, hiring additional temporary staff, requesting additional resources from the placing agency, or arranging additional support from community partners or agencies.  If a placement change is unavoidable, counties should first consider home-based alternatives, including reunification, extended home visits, or emergency placements.

Caregiver exposure or illness is not a reason in and of itself for moving a child.   When a health professional recommends that a child or caregiver be quarantined, the county or Foster Family Agency should work with the caregiver to develop an emergency plan for needs such as food delivery, medication delivery, telehealth consultation, and mental health services.  If the child is in a facility, the county should assist with the provider’s emergency plan.

Children’s residential care provides should establish health screening protocols for new admissions, children returning from being off the premises, and staff who enter and exit the facility each day.  The facility can request that the county provide COVID-19 screening.

If a congregate care facility believes a child in their care may be at high-risk for COVID-19, the provider should seek a telehealth consultation to determine if the child’s placement in congregate care is a health risk and whether an alternative placement is needed.

CDSS recommends that county placing agencies ensure that each child in a congregate care setting have a COVID-19 emergency plan.

Counties and service providers are reminded that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) remains in effect and all ICWA requirements must be met.  Counties should contact local tribes and any tribes where they have placements to determine whether tribes have changed their procedures in response to COVID-19.  For an Indian child, any placement change must be made in accordance with ICWA. (ACL 20-33, March 31, 2020.)