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Many thanks to child welfare workers in these difficult times | READER COMMENTARY

A closed sign was placed near an entrance to a playground at an elementary school in Walpole, Mass., amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak last month. Child welfare agencies in the U.S. have a difficult mission in the best of times, and now they're scrambling to confront new challenges during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
A closed sign was placed near an entrance to a playground at an elementary school in Walpole, Mass., amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak last month. Child welfare agencies in the U.S. have a difficult mission in the best of times, and now they're scrambling to confront new challenges during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) (Steven Senne/AP)

We give a round of applause to child welfare caseworkers, those front line responders whose work frequently flies under the radar. These public servants serve our most vulnerable citizens, children at risk of maltreatment or in state custody. Despite the current crisis, child welfare caseworkers continue to be on the front lines. Child welfare never stops because child abuse never stops (“Will there be enough child care centers when the coronavirus pandemic is over?” April 7).

Child welfare caseworkers are in communities assessing children’s safety and offering support to families in this difficult time, some equipped only with coronavirus guidance, their phones and, most of all, their sense of mission. Despite risk to themselves and their own families, they continue working even without the recommended protective gear to be safe. Others scramble to maintain contact with children in foster care and their parents via videoconferencing — sometimes with outdated equipment. These caseworkers are also tasked with the myriad of responsibilities that didn’t end when the pandemic began.

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Maryland has a preexisting placement crisis. There are children with complicated needs who are lingering in psychiatric hospitals and temporary settings while awaiting long term care. It’ll be no surprise when group home programs become reluctant to admit new children as quarantining existing residents and prohibiting new admissions is one way to contain the virus. Foster parents are understandably wary as well and what happens when one becomes ill?

In spite of, or perhaps because of, the current and unprecedented emergency, these are complex issues requiring attention before children have nowhere to go and hospitals have no more capacity. A plan and a place for treating foster youth who become infected is critical.

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Communities need to know that Child Protective Services is up and running. Parents stressed about finances, cooped up with children and facing looming uncertainty may struggle to parent safely. We need to do all we can for our neighbors while maintaining our own safety in this uniquely difficult time. That means supporting stressed out parents, but also reporting maltreatment when concerned. Parents needing support, even just someone to talk to, may appreciate Maryland Coalition for Families’ list of crisis hotlines (www.mdcoalition.org/get-help-now/crisis-hotline.html) or The Family Tree’s 24-hour parenting hotline at 1-800-243-7337.

In these challenging times, remember that Maryland’s child welfare workforce are public servants on the front lines. Along with accolades, we need to make sure their leadership is strong, protective gear is delivered expeditiously and technological tools are current.

Finally, we need to plan for Maryland’s children and youth in foster care. Their needs won’t stop because of the virus. In the days ahead, supporting caregivers diagnosed with the virus or who care for children who become ill will be critical. All of us need to help families however we can and protect children when necessary by reporting maltreatment.

Judith Schagrin, Baltimore

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The writer is legislative chairperson for the Maryland Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. 

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