By Shannon Saul
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges in all areas of government and the child welfare system is no exception.
Child welfare workers across the country are navigating an abrupt transition to remote visits with families, learning how to use new forms of technology and, in some cases, procuring their own personal protective equipment for when they do meet face-to-face with children and families.
At the same time, we are learning unanticipated lessons and developing new practices, some of which may be worth keeping around after the pandemic subsides. Mary McCarthy of the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute believes attention needs to be paid to how remote working has improved communication between frontline workers and agency leaders.
In a recent NCSL-sponsored meeting with state legislators and legislative staff, McCarthy described how some child welfare administrators have established virtual all-staff meetings to keep the lines of communication open while staff are working remotely. In an extended conversation, McCarthy added, “[Directors] were amazed how many people asked questions… and how much information they were able to give people to allay fears and squelch rumors.”
Some agencies are allowing workers to submit questions and concerns anonymously. According to McCarthy, by allowing frontline workers to express their fears and ask questions, agency leaders are communicating: “I care about you, you’re the most important part of my organization, and I want to personally communicate with you. And I want to hear what your concerns are.” She emphasized that, in some states, this type of communication is unprecedented.
McCarthy proposed occasionally taking these conversations a step further and using them as an opportunity for legislators to hear directly from child welfare workers. She suggested that a guest appearance at one of these meetings would “send a positive message to the workforce…and then [legislators could] be there to listen to the kinds of things that are on the workers’ minds.”
Her recommendation for child welfare directors? “Don’t stop doing this kind of outreach and engagement with your frontline workers.” And her advice for legislators? Request a one-time invitation from agency leadership to attend an all-staff meeting. The opportunity to learn from each other is clear, and the morale boost for frontline workers could be huge.
Want to learn more about how COVID-19 has impacted the child welfare system? Check out the recordings from NCSL’s COVID-19 and Child Welfare: A Series of Virtual Meetings. McCarthy was our guest in session two, COVID-19: Supporting the Child Welfare Workforce.
Shannon Saul is an intern with NCSL’s Children and Families Program.