Child Welfare and Probation services during COVID-19

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance to child welfare agencies and juvenile probation departments on operation and providing services information regarding changes child welfare services and probation because of COVID-19.  Except for disaster planning, this ACL superceeds ACL 20-23 issued on March 13, 2020.  Counties must ensure continuity of services.  Even if counties operate with reduced face-to-face contact, counties must continue to address safety needs to children reported to be abused, children in foster care and children who remain at home who receive child welfare services.

In the event of an emergency placement, families are generally required to submit fingerprints for background check within 10 days or 5 business days of receiving the emergency placement, whichever is sooner.  If live scan is not available, the county can rely on results from California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS).  Live scan should occur within 15 days of when services are restored and stay at home order is lifted.

Children and families receiving Family Maintenance services can have monthly caseworker visits by videoconference because of emergency.

For children in foster care, the federal government will now allow monthly caseworker visits by videoconference when an emergency prevents face-to-face contact.  Whether a monthly visit should occur in person is a child-specific decision to be made by the social worker. Videoconference is recommended as the first alternative.  Counties should assess if weekly or bi-weekly video contact should occur.  Telephone calls acceptable if videoconferencing is not available.

For nonminor dependents, monthly visitation can occur through viderconference, telephone, or courtesy supervision by a tribal representative or another Title IV-E agency.  Regardless of how monthly visits are done, case workers must ensure that nonminor dependents have resources and a plan for following local public health guidance, including housing, food, water, hygiene and other needed items.

Counties must contact non-minor dependents who are in school to ensure that they have necessary resources while they are out of school and to assist in returning to campuses when schools reopen.  If a youth is displaced from their dorm, counties should continue Supervised Independent Living Program payments until they find a new or temporary residence.  To assist with online classes, iFoster is offering free unlimited hotspots, headsets and laptops to assist with taking online classes.

Foster parents should provide videoconferencing with other family members if face-to-face visits do not occur.  Counties should assess each situation individually to make this determination.  Face-to-face visits should continue for children under age 3.

Social workers should maintain telephone contact and engage with parents and guardians.  Caseworkers should empower parents to use community support systems and to continue talking prescribed medications.  Caseworkers should assure parents that services discontinued or interrupted will not impact the assessment of whether they are in compliance with court-ordered reunification services.

For youth placed out of state, monthly visits must continue.  The social worker or probation officer determines whether the monthly visit will occur in person.  If a face-to-face visit is not necessary to ensure the child’s safety and well-being, videoconferencing is the first option for communication.  Counties should contact CDSS for assistance if there are problems related to travel restrictions for face-to-face visits.  CDSS will work with other states to facilitate visits.  Counties should be flexible with other states that request assistance with face-to-face visits.

Child and Family Team meetings are an important strategy to ensure families and providers can continue caring for children and counties are aware of the needs of children and caregivers.  Meeetings can be conducted by videoconference.

Post-placement supervision visits with children and youth in adoptive placement can be conducted by alternative means including videoconference based on the individual circumstances of the case.

If a child welfare agency is contacted by a parent who wishes to relinquish their non-dependent child for adoption, counties should consider entering into a voluntary placement agreement and postponing accepting relinquishment until face-to-face visits resume.  Agencies should not accept relinquishments by videoconference or telephone.  When agencies accept relinquishments, the requirement of two witnesses to the birth parent signing the relinquishment in person and the requirement that the birth parent receive appropriate counseling and advisement prior to signing remain in place.  (ACL 20-25, March 21, 2020.)