Social workers with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families will start limiting face-to-face visits with children in the care of the state because of the threat of COVID-19.
DCF workers say they will still make emergency visits and see some children, but will assess the safety of each scheduled at-home visit.
The state issued guidance to the social workers Wednesday, saying DCF must continue to fulfill its responsibility to keep children safe, especially "at a time when they are less visible in the community and therefore more vulnerable."
The guidance advises social workers to continue to contact families but to do so from a distance. The guidance does not suggest that workers stop making at-home visits to vulnerable children and families.
"With schools and child care centers closing and parents experiencing higher levels of stress for a variety reasons, including potential loss of work, it is increasingly important for us to remain in contact with our children and families to assess safety and address imminent needs they may have," the guidance document says.
It advises social workers to check in on children and families by phone or FaceTime. If the social worker has concerns, they are advised to talk with a supervisor about whether a face-to-face visit is needed. If a visit is deemed necessary, each family should be asked screening questions about whether they have symptoms, have traveled internationally or have been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
She says the state has not provided information about court cases dealing with DCF-involved children, although state courts are now closed to all but emergency hearings.
"We provide a critical function in the state of Massachusetts to protect the most vulnerable kids and my members understand that and are committed to keeping that going despite this pandemic," said Adriana Zwick, a DCF supervisor who also represents 3,500 DCF workers for the SEIU Local 509.
Zwick says on average, a DCF social worker conducts 15 to 20 face-to-face visits each month. There are tens of thousands of children involved in the system — from infants to young adults in programs designed to transition from foster care. At this point, Zwick says there are no reports of DCF staff infected with the disease.