April 01, 2020

Cortez Masto Calls on Administration to Provide Guidance to Child Welfare Agencies in the Wake of Coronavirus Crisis

Las Vegas, Nev. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in urging the Trump administration to issue national guidance for child welfare agencies that must still work to protect and support children during the COVID-19 outbreak. In a letter sent to Vice President Mike Pence and the Administration on Children, Youth and Families Commissioner Elizabeth Darling, the senators urged the administration to issue comprehensive guidance to states and tribes to ensure youth have access to the full range of support services required to meet their educational, health, and housing needs, regardless of where they live.

Youth in the child welfare system reside in a variety of settings ranging from foster family placements to kinship or relative care to congregate care, with each setting posing its own unique challenges to protecting youth from the spread of COVID-19. Yet recent reports have shown that regardless of the placement setting, the spread of COVID-19 threatens the ability of these vulnerable youth to access much needed educational, health, mental health and housing resources.

“As the nation rushes to address the COVID-19 pandemic, we are deeply concerned for the safety of over 450,000 children in the child welfare system. These youth are among the most vulnerable in our country and special care must be taken to assure their wellbeing,” the senators wrote.

In addition to urging the administration to issue guidance for child welfare agencies, the senators also demanded answers as to how the administration will continue to support kinship caregivers, many of whom are elderly relatives who face higher risk of developing complications from contracting COVID-19. The senators pushed the administration to ensure these kinship caregivers have access to support services, quality health care, transportation, food, and other essential materials, to prevent children from having to enter non-relative foster homes or group foster care.

The senators are also demanding answers on the administration’s plan to ensure child welfare agencies have an adequate and well-trained workforce and resources necessary to respond to the needs of families and children during this pandemic and its aftermath. In doing so, the senators cited the unique and dangerous challenges child welfare agencies across the country now face, as they must consider protecting the health and wellbeing of the youth in their care as well as members of their workforce.

Right now, the child welfare system is not designed for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) social distancing recommendations. In order for caseworkers to avoid jeopardizing their own health, they may be inadvertently impeding the progress of their client case plans by no longer being able to support in-person therapeutic services and family visitation.

A copy of the senators’ letter is available here.