Child welfare workers who relied on virtual technology for some non-emergency family visits during the pandemic are now prioritizing face-to-face meetings as a better way to identify abuse and neglect, the Department of Children and Families Services said Tuesday.
The department highlighted the essential work done by more than 800 emergency response social workers who are on duty to respond in person to allegations of abuse or neglect that come in around the clock to the Child Protection Hotline.
One DCFS emergency response worker said the coronavirus is just one risk factor among many that she has to consider.
“The day I was hired, I took an oath to serve the greater Los Angeles area, in good times and bad,” Tania Cendejas said in a statement issued by the department. “This is what public service is about.”
As thousands of county employees began working from home to slow the spread of COVID-19, social workers never stopped making in-person visits, but relied on virtual platforms to manage some family interviews and check-ins to better manage the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Regular monthly in-person visits resumed in June. The department projects that by the end of July, all of the roughly 36,000 children supervised by DCFS will have been seen in a face-to-face, or more accurately, mask-to-mask, meeting.
In addition to the use of personal protective equipment, social workers disinfect surfaces, wash hands and practice social distancing to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
Virtual platforms are now used only as supplemental tools, because the department relies on experts who say that speaking with children in person, away from parents or caretakers, is the best way to assess a child’s safety and living circumstances.
Cendejas, who spent five years in foster care herself before being adopted at 7 years old, is inspired by the supportive social workers who made an impact in her life. She remains upbeat in the face of the pandemic.
“If you would have told me in school that I was going to graduate, get the job I wanted and that it would be hard, I would’ve said, `OK,”’ Cendejas said. “If somebody said, `We’re going to add a global health crisis and civil unrest, are you still interested?’ I would still say `yes.’ Every time.”’
DCFS reminds residents that abuse and neglect are easier are harder to identify when children are out of school and families are sequestered at home away from mandated reporters like teachers or health care professionals.
Emergency calls to the department declined dramatically during stay-at-home orders, but DCFS still received roughly 10,000 referrals from March to June that required in-person investigations involving about 20,000 children, according to the department.
Anyone who suspects that a child’s safety may be at risk is urged to call the Child Protection Hotline at 800-540-4000.
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