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Family and Children's
Resource Program

Vol. 26, No. 1
December 2020

Faced with Pandemic, NC Perseveres

COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in many ways. Our child welfare system has faced staffing shortages, service disruptions, and has had to make tough decisions about balancing risk to staff while addressing child safety. Caregivers and families faced job loss, financial strain, social isolation, and significant stress--all with a lack of child care and a sudden thrust into virtual schooling. These challenges caused many of us to ponder two important questions:

  1. How do we, as a system, continue to offer the necessary services to promote safety, permanency, and well-being of children and youth during this crisis?

  2. How do we personally cope with all of these disruptions, while continuing to show up as the parents, professionals, and service providers that our children, youth, and families need?

Guidance from the State
In spring 2020, the NC Division of Social Services offered guidance in response to the first question above. At the heart of that guidance were three key messages:

  • Child Protective Services (CPS) is essential for ensuring the safety and well-being of children;

  • We must make working conditions for staff as safe as possible, because child welfare staff cannot protect children if they are not safe themselves; and

  • The nature of COVID-19 means face-to-face contact with families may involve a contagion risk to child welfare staff, children, and their caregivers. We must assess and weigh these risks on a case-by-case basis using the guidance provided by our healthcare communities.

With this guidance, North Carolina's child welfare system quickly pivoted to focus on two things:

1) Adaptation and innovation of service delivery. Child welfare agencies across the state developed creative ways to continue working with children and families. Many services were temporarily provided virtually. Family visits were held via videoconferencing, caseworkers checked in with parents by phone and, when appropriate, home visits were held virtually.

2) Collaboration with community partners. Child welfare agencies have long valued partnership because they know that on their own they cannot ensure the safety of children. The COVID-19 crisis really brought this home. Since March 2020, DSS agencies and their community partners have been working together to find new ways to meet the needs of children and families impacted by COVID-19.

In the midst of the pandemic, North Carolina still found a way to continue with child welfare transformation. As explained elsewhere in this issue, the ULT, Design Teams, LAT, and other stakeholders have continued to meet and make headway on the state's new practice model and the ambitious benchmarks outlined in the 2020-2024 Child and Family Services Plan.

Guidance for You
Whether you are a child welfare professional, parent, service provider, or stakeholder we know you have worked hard to support children and youth during this pandemic. Thank you for your flexibility, dedication, and commitment to families during this challenging time.

As you care for others, we hope you also are taking the time to attend to yourself. COVID-19 has taken a toll on each of us. To continue to serve others well, we encourage you to practice self-care, to lean on the people you trust, and to be kind to yourself. If you have been stressed, sad, or irritable, know you are having a normal reaction to extraordinary circumstances. There may be moments when you need to unplug, take a break, and recharge. Here are a few strategies for doing so:

  • Stay connected with friends and family. While physical distancing is encouraged, you can still connect with loved ones virtually. Social media, Skype, Zoom, and other platforms provide excellent ways to socialize so you will feel less isolated.

  • Go on an information diet. An overabundance of information can increase stress. If you are feeling overwhelmed, a brief break from the news can help you regroup.

  • Get outside. Spending time in nature, exercising, and exposure to sunlight help decrease stress.

  • Have fun and laugh. With all of the serious moments 2020 has brought us, we hope you find time for some playful ones. Being silly with your kids, watching funny videos, and playing with your favorite childhood games are just a few ideas.

  • Focus on the positive. Shifting our focus to what is working well can help us cope during challenging times. Spend 5 minutes each day writing down what you are grateful for and reflect on these strengths.
    (Webster, 2020; The Wellness Society, 2020)

If we've learned anything this year, it is that uncertainty and change are unavoidable. Collectively, we have shown resilience and have risen to meet the challenges with flexibility and creativity. The result is a more adaptive child welfare system--one better suited to manage the unexpected challenges of the future.