Has the COVID-19 crisis worsened life for children and youth in foster care?
Governor Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts for COVID-19 on March 10, 2020 and terminated the order on June 15, 2021. For as difficult as the global pandemic has been for nearly everyone, children and youth in foster care, who were already at-risk in so many ways, became, and remain, acutely vulnerable.
The true scope of the pandemic’s effects on the more than 15,000 children and young people who were in out-of-home placement in Massachusetts in 2020 (DCF Foster Care Review Report FY2020) has been impossible to grasp.
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) holds significant power over families and makes a lasting impact on the lives of children and youth. The agency has a $1 billion annual budget. Yet with inadequate requirements for reporting and transparency, DCF maintains a stunning lack of accountability.
Crucial questions we have been demanding answers to since early 2020:
- What is the incidence of COVID-19 and hospitalization of children, youth, and families?
- What percentage of social workers see their assigned families in accordance with DCF policy regarding monthly visits? What forms do required communications and visits take?
- Where are the data on parent and sibling visits with children and youth in out-of-home placements?
- Where are the data on youth over 17 years of age? There is no pandemic reporting on young adults (18-22 years old) involved with DCF.
- What is known about issues with schooling and education for young people in foster care?
- What is the impact of the pandemic crisis on placement stability, which is a critical factor for the well-being of young people?
- What is the impact on placement options; are appropriate and well-matched placements available for children and youth taken into DCF custody?
- What is the impact on the availability of and access to required services for children, youth, and families?
- What is the impact on family reunifications?
- How has DCF tailored policies and services to deal with the impact of COVID on the progress children and families involved with DCF are making toward their goals?
- What is DCF doing to address the medium- and long-term impacts of the pandemic on children and youth involved with DCF?
Friends of Children is taking action on behalf of young people in foster care during the COVID-19 crisis.
We and other advocates are working together to demand information. We have written to and met with the DCF Commissioner. We have communicated with the Child Advocate. We have contacted the Chairs of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. Advocates and citizens must know the short- and long-term impact of the pandemic on young people in foster care—who are among the most vulnerable children in our state—so that we can take effective steps to help. These children count on us!
We call for, at a minimum:
Adequate reporting from DCF on all children and young adults in DCF care and the specific impacts of COVID-19 on them, their care, and their permanency plans;
Transparency on the challenges, deficiencies, and disruptions in the child-welfare system;
Public hearings of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities of the Massachusetts Legislature to shed light on the impact of the pandemic on children, youth, and families related to COVID-19 and DCF’s response and plan to address medium- and long-term impacts;
Concrete plans with accountability to address equity problems related to economic, racial, disability and LGBTQ issues in the child-welfare system in Massachusetts, particularly given the disparity of the impact of COVID-19 on marginalized groups.
Whenever possible, we support collaborative approaches to advocacy and change. Stakeholders can and should work together to focus on the best interests of our vulnerable children, youth, and families, especially during this unprecedented crisis.
It is imperative that we address the current challenges of the pandemic and equally critical that we identify and plan for the medium- and long-term impacts on some of our most vulnerable citizens—children and young adults impacted by child-welfare involvement.
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