The Northwest Territories’ Child and Family Services system continues to adapt its services to the COVID-19 situation to protect the health and safety of children, youth, families, foster caregivers, and frontline workers.
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During this time of increased stress for families, children and youth have the potential of being at greater risk of harm. Anyone who suspects child maltreatment and neglect has a responsibility to report these concerns to their local Child and Family Services office. Contact information for these offices is available on the Department of Health and Social Services website at www.hss.gov.nt.ca/report-child-neglect.
The number one priority for Child and Family Services is protecting the health and safety of children and families. During COVID-19, the Child and Family Services system continues to receive and respond with urgency to all reports of child maltreatment and neglect.
The Child and Family Services system continues to offer support services to families, children and youth throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also made it easier for families to access one-time, short-term support if they are not adequately supported through other means to meet their basic needs. Examples of supports could include money for food, gas, fuel, diapers, and baby formula.
With the NWT being in phase 1 of the Emerging Wisely Plan, Child and Family Services has re-introduce face-to-face visits as of May 22. We have established guidelines for facilitating face-to-face visits for children and youth with their families to align with the safety precautions outlined in the Emerging Wisely Plan. In addition to in-person visits, technology continues to be used to provide ongoing contact with children and families.
Can families visit their children if they are residing with a foster caregiver or an alternative caregiver?
With the NWT being in phase 1 of the Emerging Wisely Plan, Child and Family Services has begun re-introducing in-person visits, where possible. During the containment phase, Child and Family Services did temporarily suspend most face-to-face visits. However, face-to-face visits were allowed where reunification with birth parents were being planned, infant bonding was needed and if the mother was breastfeeding. Other exceptions were also allowed on a case by case basis.
In addition to in-person visits, technology continues to be used to provide ongoing contact with children and families. Every effort is being made to make sure any technology barriers such as access to phones and computers, for families, children and youth are removed so ongoing contact can be maintained.
Workers have maintained virtual contact with family members and now that the NWT is in phase 1 of the Emerging Wisely Plan, Child and Family Services has begun re-introducing in-person contacts, where possible. We still have access to technology to provide virtual services (i.e., telephone calls and video chats) that connect children, youth and families with frontline workers; and to maintain court appointments.
Frontline workers are making sure that meaningful contact occurs with children, caregivers and families with attention on safety, health, and well-being.
We are working with the Foster Family Coalition of the NWT to understand and respond to the needs of foster caregivers; and to provide ongoing support and communication. For example, the Foster Family Coalition of the NWT is hosting virtual support meetings twice a week for foster caregivers: https://www.ffcnwt.com/.
In collaboration with the Foster Family Coalition of the NWT, we have established respite services for foster caregivers in the NWT to support them during the COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on the availability of respite care providers, the following services are now available to foster caregivers in all communities:
- Daycare for foster caregivers who have to work and need child care during work hours
- Respite care for up to four hours per week for all foster caregivers
We are making sure the right checks are in place for the safety of children before placing them in foster homes and with respite care providers.
Before a child is placed in a foster home, will the foster caregiver(s) and child be screened for COVID-19?
A COVID-19 screening process is completed by frontline workers with the foster caregivers and child before a child is placed into a foster home. The COVID-19 screening questions assess potential exposure to the virus, as well as seeing if the individual is showing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
If someone in your home tests positive for COVID-19, they, or their foster caregiver, will be contacted by a healthcare provider. All members of the household will be required to self-isolate. The healthcare provider will assess the individual for continuing or worsening symptoms and talk to them, or their foster parent, about the illness, how to care for themselves, and how to prevent spread of COVID-19 to others who may be living in the home.
A protocol has been established if a child in care is showing symptoms of COVID-19 or has been tested and is waiting for the results. Child and Family Services would support the family or caregiver to follow self-isolation guidance from the Chief Public Health Officer. The Child Protection Worker would complete daily virtual check-in for updates regarding the child’s and caregiver’s health. This protocol also outlines what would happen if a child cannot remain at their current placement, such as placing the child with extended family, a medical foster home, or alternative placement, such as a rented accommodation with two rooms.
If a child has been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19 before a confirmed placement, will Child and Family Services notify the foster caregiver?
If a child has been exposed to, or has tested positive for COVID-19, Child and Family Services would notify the prospective foster caregiver prior to placement. Furthermore, careful attention would be made to not place the child in a home where they are vulnerable persons to COVID-19, such as an Elder or someone with respiratory issues. Child and Family Services would support the family or caregiver to follow self-isolation guidance from the Chief Public Health Officer. The Child Protection Worker would complete daily virtual check-in for updates regarding the child’s and caregiver’s health.
If the child is showing symptoms of COVID-19, the child or foster caregiver should contact a healthcare provider for further assistance. They may recommend that they get tested. The foster caregiver must inform the Child Protection Worker immediately that a COVID-19 infection is suspected.
During the Containment Phase of the Emerging Wisely Plan, new intakes to OOT Specialized Services for children and youth were temporarily suspended, except for urgent requests. We are now working with these Specialized Resources to determine how they can safely accept new children and youth. We are reviewing OOT applications as specialized services accept new intakes.
Are Child Protection Workers screened for COVID-19? What steps are they taking to make sure they don't have COVID-19?
The health and wellbeing of children, youth and families is the central focus for all Child and Family Service workers. A mandatory protocol is followed by all Child Protection Workers including a COVID-19 screening process for each time they enter their workplace. They must also practice physical distancing where the situation allows and follow other public health measures.
Additionally, similar to what is advised for all NWT residents, Child Protection Workers are advised to do the following to protect themselves and others from COVID-19: