The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world in unprecedented ways. Children and families who are either in the foster care system or are at risk of being so, are no exception. COVID-19 has impacted children, biological families, foster families, adoptive families, the court system, support services, agencies…virtually every area of the child welfare system has been affected by this pandemic, especially social workers.
Thankfully, we serve a God who knows, who sees, who cares, and who loves us through this. A God who calls His people, the Church, to be His hands and feet to a hurting world amid the pandemic, and beyond.
With schools closing, many children who experience abuse and neglect in their homes have lost perhaps their only safe place, where caring adults can look out for them and even help them escape the harm they are experiencing. Child abuse and neglect are now often hidden from sight, and therefore, not reported. These incidents are likely on the rise as stress levels in the home rise, and as children are confined to their homes all day and night with abusive and neglectful caregivers, which makes the job of protecting vulnerable children even more difficult.
Social workers are on the front lines of child welfare. They are the ones investigating allegations of abuse and neglect. The ones who often enter unsafe homes and make determinations that could change a child’s life and a family’s life forever. They are the ones who have to face down often hostile parents and caretakers, including many who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and remove children from their care, facing anger, threats of violence, and more.
Social workers are the ones who get to know children and their families, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and help build case plans that will enable parents to turn their lives around, address the issues they need to address and get their children back. They are the ones who often recommend termination of parental rights when they feel the parents haven’t done all they can to address their underlying issues. They are the ones who shed tears over children most of society never even thinks about.
Social workers are frequently overworked, carrying caseloads much larger than should be expected of them, while often being underpaid and under-resourced as well. They are so crucial to the well-being of our nation’s most vulnerable children (and families), and yet they often go unappreciated for the work they do.
In this age of COVID-19, social workers have to adapt their routines to protect children while minimizing the spread of the virus. They must navigate going into unsafe homes while maintaining social distancing and keeping everyone safe. Going into the public and into homes where proper precautions are perhaps not taking place puts their health at risk. They have to continue to get much-needed services to parents (biological and foster), and children, even as everything has shut down around them. Some may be needed to take over cases from other workers who find themselves sick during this pandemic. They must continue to help children and families with visitation, often using technology instead of face-to-face visits. They must work with the courts to keep cases moving forward, so kids do not get stuck in the system longer than needed. In the aftermath of the pandemic, when society reopens and child abuse and neglect reports skyrocket, they will likely see their already-overwhelming caseloads growing even larger. In short, a tough job for these social workers has now gotten even more difficult.
Will you join us in praying for social workers? Pray that they will have the strength and wisdom and courage to continue their efforts to help children and families. For their families who may have even less time with them than before, as they work long hours for the benefit of children and families. That others will come alongside them to encourage them in this time. And they will not become burnt out or discouraged. Pray for their safety and well-being.
What can you do to help social workers during this time tangibly? You can send them notes of encouragement, gift cards for restaurants, flowers…anything to let them know you appreciate them and the work they do. You can also contact your local child welfare agencies and see if they need anything for themselves, or for the kids and families they serve, and you can organize a drive and donate much-needed items. In short, let them know that you care about them and what they do, and that you are there to support them in this challenging time, and hopefully, beyond.