With the COVID-19 outbreak, child welfare has slammed into a new workforce reality: Everyone is working from home. Everyone is scrambling to figure out virtual visits. And many are worrying about reaching kids who may be particularly vulnerable at this time. It’s easy to feel the pressure of “we need more resources” or “I need money for a new program that will do virtual visits – or a new program to focus on the highest-risk children and families.”

For better or worse, government typically reacts to what is perceived as the biggest crisis. For better or worse, child welfare isn’t on that list right now (for obvious reasons, contact tracing and unemployment are). Meanwhile, child welfare isn’t receiving the usual volume of reports – and budgets are being cut as tax revenues decline.

If child welfare leaders are waiting on the edge of their seats for additional resources, I have a spoiler – they aren’t coming.

It’s time to outmaneuver uncertainty by getting even more resourceful with the people and programs that you have. Here are three ways to do that:

  • Step out of worry and into logic.

    Yes, there are kids to worry about. Now get specific about which. Disaggregate the worry into a segment you can actively focus on. It could be children under age three who were subject of an investigation and are still home with parents, or kids aged eight to 12 who just reunified at the end of last year. Or you could choose to focus resources on a geography – for example, a county that has been hard hit with job and income loss and COVID diagnoses. No matter what you choose, be precise about which children and families will be your priority focus.

  • Look at your existing staff.

    You may have some resources who are unable to work because they or someone in their family is sick. It’s also difficult to recruit, hire and train new workers in the current environment. Yet there are probably child welfare workers at home without enough to do. Redeploy them to reach out to the families on which you’ve chosen to focus.

  • Believe in your caseworkers.

    Caseworkers are heroes; they solve mind-bending problems every day. Invite them into the work of keeping kids safe and families strong in a virtual space. They can be asked to figure out how to get parents to pick up their phone and turn on their video screen. My bet is that many families will welcome the interaction and support.

There’s no question that we’re in a challenging time, with many unknowns still ahead of us. Yet this isn’t a time to “wait and see.” We have great resources we can leverage now to keep children safe.

Let’s continue the conversation. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and stay tuned for upcoming blogs.

Molly Tierney

Managing Director – Public Service, Child Welfare, North America

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