How to protect children's welfare in the wake of COVID-19
Every facet of the lives of children and families are being disrupted during this historic public health and economic crisis. Unfortunately, both their short-term and long-term consequences and challenges are not being fully considered or discussed. This crisis is severe and will last for months or even years to come. Moreover, the resulting physical and mental health consequences, impact on education and child development, and economic implications of this calamity will last well beyond the coronavirus itself.
That is why First Focus Campaign for Children called on Congress to safeguard the physical, emotional, financial, and developmental health and well-being of our nation’s 74 million children with a specific package of legislative proposals across a range of issues — including child welfare.
Policymakers have worked to keep families safe and together by passing the Family First Prevention Services Act and the Family First Transition Act and thereby investing in programs that prevent abuse and neglect and keep children from coming into foster care. However, the COVID-19 public health crisis threatens the supports that are critical for the children, youth, and families that receive a variety of services from state child welfare agencies. COVID-19 has caused increases in known risk factors for child abuse and neglect: social isolation, parental stress, and economic strain.
State funding is likely to be sparse. Congressional action is needed to maintain services for the first-time parents whose home visiting professional is teaching them how to babyproof their home for their baby with special needs; for the retired grandparents who are receiving kinship funds to help cover the cost of caring for their grandchildren while their parents get substance abuse treatment; and for the child who is meeting with a child protection worker during an investigation of abuse or neglect. Furthermore, older youth in foster care need extended support as they prepare to age out of foster care with no academic or occupational stability as the country’s physical and economic health are in disarray. To achieve these goals, Congress must:
- Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect: Increase funding to CAPTA Title II Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CB-CAP) grants by $1 billion to quickly deploy resources directly to locally-driven prevention services and programs. CB-CAPs provide community-based grants to all 50 states for the express purpose of preventing child abuse and neglect, including key services like state child abuse hotlines, voluntary home visiting programs, parent support programs, baby pantries, distribution of food and medication, family resources centers, and respite care services. This will target specific prevention services to communities where it is needed most, help state and local systems adapt to the unique challenges of serving families during this pandemic, and avoid waiting lists.
- Continue Supports for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care: Amend the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 to allow state child welfare agencies to receive federal reimbursement through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act for 100 percent of the cost of supporting youth who turn 21 during this public health crisis and for 180 days after its declared end.
- Stabilize Families and Support Foster Parents: Increase funding to Title IV-B, Part 2, the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program (PSSF) by $1 billion to help eliminate the need for out-of-home placements, both to protect children and to prevent the child welfare system from being overwhelmed by the crisis. PSSF is a critical funding source for stabilizing families, supporting foster parents, and other prevention efforts for states during times of crisis.
- Apply FMAP Increase to Prevention Funding Now: Ensure the FMAP rate increase is provided to the new Title IV-E Prevention Program. This is important to clarify because the Title IV-E Prevention Program is not currently reimbursed at the FMAP rate, but instead is reimbursed at a 50 percent rate (it moves to FMAP reimbursement in 2027), so we recommend a total of 50 percent plus the final FMAP increase.
- Provide Tech and Protective Resources to Child Protection Workforce: Increase funding to CAPTA Title I by $500 million to ensure state and local child protection systems can adapt to these new circumstances while continuing to respond quickly to the reports of child abuse and address barriers to ordinary service delivery during the pandemic. This funding will ensure the child protection workforce has necessary technological and protective resources to prevent the interruption of vital support services to children and families amidst this crisis. In-person investigations are being disrupted in ways that put children at risk of great harm.
- Keep Child Welfare Courts Safe and Open: Increase funding to the Court Improvement Program (CIP) by $30 million to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the functioning of child welfare courts. Court shutdowns, need for emergency investment in technology, and reduced staffing are already resulting in delayed hearings, and, ultimately, compromised child safety, delayed family reunification, and loss of accountability and critical support to child victims and their families. CIP is the only source of federal funding for state courts related to child welfare and is well-positioned to help address challenges in the administration of legal proceedings in this field.
- Increase Amount of and Access to Funds for Independent Living Services: Boost Title IV-E Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (Chafee) funds above the current level by $500 million and temporarily waive the 30 percent Chafee housing cap for the duration of the crisis in order to provide additional support for living independent services for current and former foster youth.
- Provide Hazard Pay for Social Workers: It is best practice for social workers to increase face-to-face contact with children on their caseloads during a crisis. This increased contact helps prevent abuse and neglect, allows for the youth to communicate confidentially with their worker, and also provides increased support to the child and their caregiver during times of instability. While many workers are replacing face-to-face contact with virtual meetings, there will be times that face-to-face contact is best for the child and their family. Congress should incentivize the necessary use of this best practice by allowing state agencies to be reimbursed for hazard pay through CAPTA.
For a full list of our specific policy recommendations across the array of children’s issues, check out our letter to Congress.