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June 2022Vol. 23, No. 5The Impact of COVID-19 on Reunification for Child Welfare-Involved Families

COVID-19 has been a source of disruption and stress for families and systems and has significantly changed the way child welfare operates in its day-to-day business. At the start of the pandemic, many courts and child welfare agencies suspended or reduced in-person family time, which is a critical part of the reunification process and has several benefits to attachment and well-being. Family time also provides an opportunity for child welfare workers to assess the progress of birth parents in meeting reunification goals. To help mitigate the challenges to in-person visits, many agencies implemented virtual family time to their clients' case plans. However, meeting virtually can have its own set of challenges since some families may not have easy access to technology and the internet or have children who are too young to engage online or have special needs. 

The article "The Impact of COVID-19 on Child Welfare-Involved Families: Implications for Parent–Child Reunification and Child Welfare Professionals" in Developmental Child Welfare features a mixed-methods study that used survey data gleaned from 196 child welfare professionals from August to September 2020. The study looked at the impact COVID-19 has had on birth and foster parents, children, and child welfare professionals as well as its implications and associated challenges for parent-child contact and reunification though the perspectives of child welfare-involved professionals. 

This study aimed to answer three questions:
  1. How has COVID-19 impacted the work lives and responsibilities of child welfare-involved professionals?
  2. How has COVID-19 impacted child welfare-involved families from the perspective of the professionals who work with them?
  3. How do the perceived impacts vary by professional role (i.e., child welfare worker, therapist, attorney)?
The study found that most participants had increased anxiety about the safety of the families and children they serve (77 percent) and about their own protection and safety from the virus (55 percent). Almost a quarter (23 percent) experienced or feared job loss, and 15 percent reported an increase in their caseloads. The survey also explored the impact of COVID-19 on reunification speed and planning and other concerns participants had. Several themes about what participants believed were undermining reunification outcomes emerged from the responses:
  • Lack of in-person visits and subsequent weaker parent-child bonds 
  • Lack of access to services and supports 
  • Child welfare and legal system failures
  • Stress and functioning among foster parents and children in foster care
  • Suspected unreported abuse
When reviewing the results of the survey, it is important to remember that most participants had a fairly homogenous racial, educational, and gender makeup, which may have impacted their reflections. Child welfare and related professionals, leaders, and administrators can use this survey to reflect on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected both their workforce and the families they serve, whether workers have the same concerns now, and where attention can be focused. 

Related Articles

Find information on what COVID-19 has revealed about racial differences in child welfare and child well-being in the following articles: