Gov. Jay Inslee’s Proclamation 20.33 made changes to Policy 4254 - Family Time and Sibling and Relative Visits, giving the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) the flexibility to utilize remote technology to ensure visits could safely continue between children and their families amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The reunification of children with their parents remains the primary goal of Washington’s child welfare system. Family Time visitation is critical to achieving successful reunification, and as such, DCYF understands the importance of maintaining contact between children and their parents and siblings.
To balance both public health and the needs of children and families related to visitation, DCYF made temporary policy and implementation changes to align with the continued “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” orders. The temporary policy did not suspend in-person visits but focused on options to conduct visitation remotely using technology. Caseworkers and contracted Family Time providers immediately took action to work with parents and caregivers to obtain the necessary technology.
Based on consultation with the Department of Health (DOH) and our network of partners, we are confident that some children can safely return to in-person visits now. While remote visits remain an option, we are asking caseworkers and visit contractors to work with parents, foster parents and caregivers and children to move to in-person visits when they can be completed safely, based on the COVID-19 protocols.
Agency Guidance & Protocols for In-Person Visitation During COVID-19
As we have previously stated, DCYF is committed to returning to in person visits as soon as possible. We are committed to resuming in-person visits in a manner that takes into account the health and safety of all involved. Based on input from the Department of Health (DOH) and our network of partners, we are confident some children can safely return to in-person visits. Therefore, we have refined the original “phased” plan to focus on a wider system approach.
Why the shift from the phased in plan to a wider systems approach?
While the phases provide us case types to focus on, we recognize it appears to present limits of who could access in-person visits and creates confusion among staff, parents, caregivers and partners. Additionally, without an extension of the proclamation guaranteed, it became impossible to effectively plan and prepare to move through the phases for the entire system.
These realities lead us to focus less on case types and rather how to organize visits around safety during this COVID-19 period. We anticipate this shift will result in more in-person visits happening during the COVID-19 period, while maintaining safety of children, parents, staff and caregivers. While remote visits remain an option, we are asking social workers and visit contractors to work with parents, foster parents and caregivers and children to move to in-person visits if they can be completed safely, based on the guidance.
In order to ensure the health and safety of children, families, parents, caregivers, and staff, we have developed safety protocols based on guidance from DOH. The information focuses on how to conduct in-person visitation during this time of COVID-19. This guidance includes information from CDC and DOH on cleaning and sanitizing, transportation, and safety and health protocols to follow before and during the visit. The guidance includes how to proceed when visits cannot be conducted according to these safety guidelines, including utilizing remote visitation until safety is achieved.
- Family Time In-Person Visitation During COVID-19 Parent Information
- Family Time In-Person Visitation During COVID-19 Foster Parents and Caregiver Information
- Family Time In-Person Visitation During COVID-19 Family Time Provider Protocols
- Family Time Provider In-Person Visitation During COVID-19 Webinar Q&A
DCYF will provide masks for Family Time contractors, staff, children and parents. DCYF has also implemented, effective immediately and for the remainder of the fiscal year, a temporary COVID-19 in-person visit payment supplement. To ensure Family Time Contractors are able to enact the DOH screening and cleaning guidelines, we have created an additional payment element for in-person visits so they can bill DCYF for each in-person visit when COVID-19 DOH pre-visit preparation procedures are followed.
We will continue to work with our partners going forward and update the guidance as new health information is shared from DOH and CDC, and as we learn more about the needs of children, parents, caregiver and staff.
Family Time Visitation Data
We have been working closely with our stakeholders and staff to support them to make remote visitation successful. In partnership with the University of Washington School of Social Work and working with DCYF’s Office of Innovation, Alignment, and Accountability, we provided a survey to contracted Family Time providers and gathered regional Family Time visitation data to understand where there may be barriers. We are still working to understand the data collected from these surveys and other sources. To date, here is what we know about the parent-child visitation:
- Children are still visiting their parents and siblings: We observed an initial decline in the frequency of visitation immediately following proclamation 20.05. As of the end of April, children are visiting their families at rates similar to what we observed prior to proclamation 20.05 (for children with active visit plans, our available data suggest that children visit 1-2 times per week).
- Nearly 100 percent of visits in April took place virtually: The contracted visitation provider community, as well as relatives and caregivers, have quickly integrated technology into their support of parent-child visits.
The following table outlines the number of visitations (virtual and in-person) that were recorded in each region. This information was submitted by providers and caseworkers.
In addition, many visits are taking place via caseworkers, foster parents and relative caregivers, not all of those visits are reflected in the table.
There are a variety of reasons why visits do not occur, our initial analysis of survey data from the field indicates that just 7% of visits that are missed during the pandemic are being missed because of technology issues. The most common reason that people are not visiting appears to be refusals from one or more of the visit participants. Across all of our survey data, when a visit participant is refusing to participate in visitation during the pandemic, caregivers are almost never the source of the refusal.
Contracted Visits by Region and Modality
DCYF will continue to track visitation data throughout the pandemic and use it to fine-tune practice and plan for needed adjustments.