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July/August 2021Vol. 22, No. 7Seven Lessons the Child Welfare System Can Take From COVID-19

Like many fields, child welfare was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent government responses. Incidents of child maltreatment are likely on the rise due to financial instability, school and day care closures, and social isolation. However, fewer incidents have been reported during the pandemic, likely because education personnel typically account for one in five child welfare services referrals.

While the pandemic has resulted in barriers for child welfare systems, it has also resulted in several lessons learned that can be used to improve system processes and operations even after life begins to return to normal. A recent report from the American Enterprise Institute details seven system improvement recommendations to protect children during and after the pandemic:

  1. Develop ways to detect child maltreatment outside of schools.
  2. Classify child welfare caseworkers as essential so they can continue working with families in person.
  3. Normalize virtual participation in court hearings.
  4. Require court hearings and other permanency-related requirements to continue without delay.
  5. Facilitate virtual visitation between children and their biological families, siblings, and others, when appropriate. 
  6. Find innovative ways to recruit foster families.
  7. Rely on community partnerships when addressing nonmaltreatment concerns.
These recommendations for new strategies, better use of existing technology, and increased partnership with community-based agencies can help address new barriers to detecting maltreatment and achieving permanency for children in foster care.