FILE – A rally for foster care was held at the BC Legislature in Victoria to support youth who ‘may not know their rights.’ (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

‘There isn’t consistency:’ COVID-19 response varies for children in care

B.C. has temporarily suspended in-person visits between children and youth in care and their families

Phones have been ringing continuously at the office of the First Nations family advocate in Manitoba as parents, children and social workers look for answers about what will happen to some of society’s most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic

“I always want to give the message to our families to stay strong,” says advocate Cora Morgan.

“I know it’s really hard because they have to stay strong against circumstances very few mainstream people could appreciate.”

Morgan describes the pleas for help. One call is from parents begging to see their children’s faces since court-ordered, in-person visits have been delayed indefinitely. Another is from a mother who needs to take parenting classes as part of a plan to reunite with her family. The classes have been discontinued.

Another mother is looking for food so her children won’t be taken into care. Funds are usually tight, but now any options for work have disappeared and prices at nearby corner stores have increased as supplies diminish.

There are about 10,000 children in care in Manitoba. About 90 per cent are Indigenous.

Morgan says there are also calls from social workers, agencies and parents worried about the potential spread of the novel coronavirus when workers are entering homes. Some have been told to continue as usual despite the world around them shutting down.

Child welfare is an essential service, Morgan says, but it is not being dealt with like others during this unprecedented time.

“There isn’t consistency among agencies in the way that they are responding to COVID-19,” Morgan says.

READ MORE: 14-day quarantine is key, but hospitals preparing for potential COVID-19 ‘surge’: Tam

British Columbia has temporarily suspended in-person visits between children and youth in care and their families. There are a few exceptions such as one to ensure mothers can breastfeed their infants.

Plans for children in care in the face of longer-term restrictions due to COVID-19 vary across the country. Some regions have ended face-to-face meetings. Others have brought in screening tools for workers entering homes. Only a few have dedicated funds to support children in government care during the pandemic.

British Columbia has temporarily suspended in-person visits between children and youth in care and their families. There are a few exceptions such as one to ensure mothers can breastfeed their infants.

Ontario has announced $40 million for infection control and personal protective equipment in residential facilities, including those for youth and children in care. It’s recommended that only essential visitors enter. An emailed statement says the province is encouraging the use of technology to keep kids and parents in contact.

The province has also brought in a moratorium on youth aging out of care so they won’t lose financial support or housing during the pandemic. The Child Welfare League of Canada has recommended the same move for every region of the country.

Alberta is encouraging case workers to conduct family meetings by phone or video chat. It’s part of the province’s “evolving policies,” Lauren Armstrong in the Children’s Services Ministry office said in an email. In-person visits can still happen, but only for urgent situations.

“We know that vulnerable children may be more at-risk without the routine of going to school and attending social functions, so Children’s Services remains ready to follow up on concerns and work with families,” she wrote.

Saskatchewan is reviewing policies as public health recommendations change and is preparing to provide social workers with personal protective equipment. Janice Colquhoun, executive director of child and family programs, says it’s vitally important there is still the ability to respond to reports of child abuse or neglect.

Manitoba is allowing workers to weigh what’s in the best interest of a child against any potential public health risk. An email from the province’s Family Services Department said social workers entering homes to make sure kids are safe and family visits are considered essential.

READ MORE: ‘Do something now:’ Inmate’s wife calls for release of non-violent offenders

Daphne Penrose, Manitoba’s advocate for children and youth, says provinces should allow flexibility because each family and situation is unique.

“To say no visits, period, may not be appropriate in every situation,” she says. “Workers may be able to really provide visitations under the protocols that are required.”

With a rapidly evolving situation there may be a need for more stringent measures, Penrose says, but each decision must respect a child’s rights, including family visits, education and feeling safe.

Every province, agency and family needs to make plans for how to deal with any new public safety measures that could last for months, Penrose suggests. In Manitoba, she says those conversations are well underway.

“When we have severely addicted kids, children and youth, who are unable to make safe and healthy decisions for themselves just on the day to day, when you add this level of pandemic, they become even more vulnerable than they were before.”

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Big Beach parties spark concern in Ucluelet

“You find needles, left over party debris, bottles and still burning fires.”

Ucluelet’s Terrace Beach Resort is for sale

The commercial offering of 21 suites and cabins was recently listed for $4,495,000

Young tourist caught untying boats from Ucluelet dock

“He was just untying the boats and watching them float away,” said Harbour Master Kevin Cortes.

Feds announce $8.3M to deal with ‘ghost’ fishing gear in B.C. waters

Ghost gear accounts for up to 70 per cent of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight

Ucluelet RCMP warns of scammers impersonating police

“Police will never demand payment of any kind to get rid of an arrest warrant.”

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Vancouver Island business ad unintentionally features OK gesture linked to white supremacy

Innocuous ‘OK’ gesture in cleaning franchise advertisement gets flak on social media for ‘supposedly’ promoting white supremacy

Minivan driver’s speed a factor in fatal 2018 Malahat crash

Driver was travelling at 110 km/h in a construction zone

WATCH: Tofino youth choir sing tribute song to front-line workers

Wickaninnish Elementary students release virtual rendition of ‘A Thousand Suns’ by Hey Rosetta!

Comox Valley RCMP looking for missing woman

Ami Guthrie was last seen in Courtenay in early July

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

Most Read