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USA Social Work and Covid-19: Concerns Over Increased Child Risk

USA - Covid-19 has now reached all 50 states and, as in all sectors, social workers are struggling to adapt. Practitioners are looking at ways of protecting themselves and service users, as the virus is exacerbating difficulties in already precarious families. As previously reported by Social Work Network, children and young people are particularly vulnerable during lock-down.


General levels of stress are augmented by real or threatened jobs losses, which can exacerbate the difficulties in households with substance abuse, mental health or domestic violence issues. Stress is a key factor in abuse and neglect.


The first weeks of March have seen a 10% increase in all messages to Childhelp, which runs a 24-hr child abuse hotline, compared to the previous year.


The group suggests that this reflects rising anxiety within families.


A spokeswoman for the group reported that “A teen reached out the minute she found out her school was closed for three weeks. She was worried that now she was going to be home with her abuser.”


Other risk factors include reduced contact with teachers and school guidance counsellors, who are obliged to report suspected abuse by law.


The majority of states are instructing workers to call ahead before a home visit to see if anyone is displaying coronavirus symptoms. Pools of caseworkers are volunteering to enter infected homes with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in some areas.


There are widespread complaints that PPE is not widely available.


Wabe.org reported that Coronavirus could lead to gridlock for child welfare systems and that in Georgia agencies that deal with foster care and family reunification are concerned that the coronavirus pandemic is already putting a strain on the state’s child welfare system.

As schools close and Georgia social workers have cut back on in-person visits, there are now fewer touchpoints with children considered at risk of abuse or neglect.


Bethany Christian Services, which is a non-profit foster and adoption center with 36 branches in the U.S., is bracing for an increase of children into an already gridlocked system.


“Many kids were on track to be reunified with their birth families, but unfortunately, court systems have basically shut down,” Cheryl Williams, Bethany’s foster care supervisor in Atlanta, said.


“We also have many cases where children were on the track to be adopted by their foster family, and that has come to a halt.”


This delay in the system may effect up to 12,800 children. At the same time, the number of foster families offering placements is decreasing.


“We have a lot of veteran foster families that have been doing this for many years,” Williams said. “They are in that group that has been identified as at-risk.


“And so they need to protect themselves, and are unfortunately not able to take placements at this time.”

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