Guidance for Children and Families Involved with the Child Welfare System During the COVID-19 Pandemic

American Academy of Pediatrics

The three guiding values of child welfare services are safety, permanency, and well-being. Maintaining child safety is essential, and even the circumstances of a pandemic should not undermine the vital work of supporting permanency and well-being for children and their families. Child welfare systems have the capacity to innovate during crises, and the challenges of the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic offer an opportunity to develop new ways to support families. The expansion of telehealth has helped facilitate visits that were often hindered by travel and difficulties with coordination of visits. Child welfare professionals have worked across disciplines in new and effective ways. Implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act and expanded prevention efforts can help keep families safely together.

Children in foster care and their families have experienced being “distanced” from each other even before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Feelings of isolation and loneliness during the current crisis can compound the uncertainty and change that may have occurred both before and during foster care placement. Perhaps most importantly, the pandemic has increased awareness of underlying racial and socioeconomic disparities that continue to affect children in foster care. Racial and ethnic inequities that result in Black, Indigenous, and Latinx families’ disproportionate involvement in the child welfare system can be addressed by providing families access to needed services that prevent unnecessary foster care and child welfare involvement.

We know from past crises, such as Hurricane Katrina, that the effects of disasters may not manifest until well after the event and can persist for years. We must prepare for the aftermath of our current crisis in the months and years ahead while remembering that children are resilient and strong and that we can help support those strengths. Pediatricians stand ready to work alongside child welfare professionals to support their critical work devising optimal ways to serve children and families during the pandemic and beyond.

During crises such as the current pandemic, the protection of family integrity for children and families involved in the child welfare system remains extremely important. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) affirms that a stable home and caregiver are important to nurturing a child’s development and preventing trauma that can affect a child across the lifespan. This guidance is designed to support the continuation and improvement of that critical work so that all children and families may flourish.