PPC staff would like to thank those professionals who go to work each day in pursuit of a better quality of life for the Commonwealth’s children – even though they themselves are at-risk of contracting the coronavirus – including health care and county child welfare professionals, home visitors, and many others, and also child care and pre-k center staff who are now out of work and struggling to make ends meet.
We also extend our gratitude to our partners advocating to ensure the needs of the children most vulnerable to abuse and neglect are met and that the services on which those children rely experience as little interruption as possible.
The United Way of Pennsylvania has also compiled a comprehensive list of resources in response to the COVID-19 crisis and we encourage you to visit their website as well.
County Child Welfare Practice
County child welfare agency functions are still considered essential services, and require ensuring the continued safety, well-being, and permanency of all children and youth who are involved in the system. The pandemic has complicated the work, as the federal government, state agency, and county leadership must balance the need for continuation of services while also ensuring the safety of these essential employees, including those they have contact with.
Face-to-face contact between child welfare employees and clients must continue, including the investigation of child abuse and neglect allegations. However, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has allowed some modification of those requirements to balance public safety and essential duties through videoconferencing capabilities. The state office of Children, Youth, and Families is following this guidance which has been communicated to the county child welfare agencies. The guidance from ACF can be found at: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/new_guidance_videoconferencing.pdf
Additionally, the Child Welfare Program Manual has updated question #8 surrounding videoconferencing options: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cwpm/public_html/programs/cb/laws_policies/laws/cwpm/policy_dsp.jsp?citID=178
Older Youth in Foster Care and College
As College Campuses closed across the state, current and former foster youth were grappling with how to ensure that they were preparing for concerns of homelessness, food security, and meeting requirements of extended foster care provisions. While there is still much that the administration is working on to support this population of transition aged youth, several pieces of guidance have been issued. See how systems can support this population in this time of crisis: https://jlc.org/sites/default/files/attachments/2020-03/Responding%20to%20COVID%2019_PA%20Final_6.pdf
Additionally, “Think of Us” and the U.S. Children’s Bureau, co-hosted a Virtual Town Hall Meeting to focus on the challenges faced by older youth in foster care and to address questions posed by states: https://www.thinkof-us.org/town-hall
The Office of Children, Youth, and Families has also issued guidance surrounding youth who are currently or may be placed in child residential and day treatment facilities, often referred to as “congregate care” settings: http://www.paproviders.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Visitation-Meeting-and-Travel-Guidance-during-COVID-19_-OCYF-Memo_-03262020.pdf
Court Proceedings and Ensuring Legal Requirements
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a statewide court order, outlining the required and restricted court functions. This has left many county child welfare agencies trying to determine how to conduct required court proceedings safely, while ensuring statutory requirements are followed. The Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance on these issues, as outlined in the following: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/child_law/covid19-letter.pdf
More information from the Pennsylvania Judiciary and determination on requirements can be located at: www.pacourts.us/ujs-coronavirus-information
Additional resources for child welfare professionals and advocates:
Early Learning (Child Care and Pre-k)
The Office of Child Development and Early Learning continues to issue guidance to child care providers during the Coronavirus pandemic:
Phased-In Approach to Reopen Business: What it means for child care programs
“On Friday, May 1, 2020, Governor Wolf announced 24 counties that will begin a phased reopening on May 8, 2020. This reopening will follow guidance issued for a Phased-In Approach to Reopen Business. Under this guidance, child care can begin to reopen without a waiver when a region is moved into the yellow phase. Counties included in the May 1, 2020, announcement can be found here.
“We understand child care operators are eager to understand what reopening may look like in the counties moving into the yellow phase. This understanding will assist in making the decision to reopen and preparing for that date.
“Several questions have been posed related to the impact of Dr. Levine’s order for businesses maintaining in-person operations. Based on careful consideration, it has been determined that this order will not apply to reopening child care providers. The Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) will issue guidelines for reopening child care providers. These guidelines will be largely based on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance specific to child care providers found here. Child care operators considering reopening must familiarize themselves with this guidance.”
Older updates include:
- COVID-19 Operational Recommendations for Child Care Providers
Gov. Wolf’s order for all “non-life sustaining businesses” in Pennsylvania to close their physical locations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 does not apply to child care centers operating with an approved waiver, child care centers that submitted a waiver, group child care homes operating in a residence and family child care homes.
For licensed providers operating outside Philadelphia to get a waiver to operate: Complete the Exemption of Directive to Temporarily Close form available here. Completed waiver forms should be emailed to OCDEL at RA-PWDRACERT@PA.GOV. Child care certification staff will respond to requests as quickly as possible. Email subject line should read, “Waiver Request – (Insert County Name).” Providers who have already submitted applications should not resubmit or send additional requests. If you have questions you can call OCDEL at 1-877-4-PA-KIDS or contact your Child Care Certification Representative.
For licensed providers operating in Philadelphia to get a waiver to operate: The City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Department of Health have developed a separate additional process, requirements, and approval system for facilities operating in the city. Child care centers and group child care homes operating outside of a residence seeking to remain open in Philadelphia must complete both the OCDEL waiver request available here and the Philadelphia waiver form available here. Future closure instructions may be made to child care operators in Philadelphia and only those providers with both an OCDEL and Mayor’s office waiver will be permitted to remain open.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) along with the Governor’s Office and General Assembly, has made efforts to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus on public education: legislation has been passed to provide flexibility to schools during closure, regulations have been changed in order to provide nutritious lunches to children during the pandemic, and recommendations have been made for the continuity of education during this time. Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera has also been releasing guidance for school administrators and parents.
Senate Bill 751 was recently signed into law and includes relief to public and nonpublic schools by:
- Waiving the 180 instructional day requirement for the 2019-20 school year;
- Allowing Sec. Rivera to increase the number of flexible instruction days and waive timelines;
- Requiring school districts to make a good faith effort to develop a continuing education plan;
- Providing flexibility for special education;
- Providing no loss in subsidies or reimbursements for schools or charter schools will take place;
- Waiving the minimum number of Career and Technical Education hours required for a full year;
- Waiving the minimum number of pre-k instructional days required in a full year;
- Providing that no staff member will lose compensation during the closure; and
- Addressing school bus contracts.
The federal government has granted Pennsylvania approval to allow schools the option to distribute meals to children under the age of 18 at no cost while schools are closed. Schools may utilize essential staff to ensure students have access to meals. Many schools and school districts are utilizing volunteers to assist in food delivery and/or distribution. Information on meal distribution by county may be found here.
PDE has strongly encouraged all schools to develop and provide some form of continuing education for their students while schools are closed. Check these links for guidance, which are updated routinely:
- Messages from PDE Secretary Pedro Rivera
- School FAQs and Guidance
- Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 Website
- CDC COVID-19 Website
- Talking to Children about COVID-19
Changes are happening quickly at both the federal and state levels to respond to COVID-19 and to help protect Medicaid and CHIP coverage for Pennsylvania children and families. During this difficult time, we want you to know that there are health insurance options. Visit our Know Your Health Insurance Options page for help obtaining coverage.
- Thanks to the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, there is a disenrollment freeze in Medicaid. All beneficiaries – this includes children and postpartum women beyond 60 days – enrolled in Medicaid as of March 18, 2020 remain continuous eligible during the national emergency period.
- There are NO copayments for testing, screening and office visits related to COVID-19 for children in Medicaid or CHIP.
- Most families with children in CHIP qualify for free, meaning they do not have to pay premiums based on their income. However, if your family pays a CHIP premium and your financial status changes (i.e. loss of income related to COVID-19), contact your CHIP MCO! You may qualify for a lower or no premium payment or even qualify for Medicaid coverage.
Refer to the helpful FAQs from the Department of Human Services (DHS) for more information about Medicaid and CHIP coverage of COVID-19:
Child Immunization Rates Dropping During Pandemic
During the coronavirus pandemic, we are seeing an alarming decline of vaccination rates nationwide as parents opt out of well-child visits. PCC, a pediatric electronic health records company, found that measles, mumps and rubella shots dropped by 50 percent, diphtheria and whooping cough shots dropped by 42 percent and HPV vaccines dropped by 73 percent.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has guidance encouraging doctors to prioritize in-person newborn care, and well visits and immunizations of infants and children under age two.
Pediatricians are reminding families about the importance of vaccinations and that well visits and routine visits should continue during the pandemic, and they are safeguarding their offices to protect against the coronavirus.
News from DHS
- Pennsylvania Receives Waiver to Facilitate Greater Flexibility in Medicaid, CHIP Programs During COVID-19 Mitigation Efforts: March 30, 2020
- Wolf Administration Highlights Health Insurance Special Enrollment Periods, Availability of Medicaid and CHIP Following COVID-19 Layoffs: March 24, 2020
- Medicaid and CHIP Recipients’ COVID-19 Testing and Treatment Resources are Covered: March 11, 2020
Virtual home visits are occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to keep Pennsylvania families connected to important services.
As more families experience financial hardships during this time, we expect many more families will be eligible and reach out to join voluntary home visiting programs for parent education and support.
To learn more about home visiting and for information about the evidence-based home visiting programs operating in Pennsylvania, visit Childhood Begins at Home.
In addition, Be Strong Families has released COVID-19 Support: Staying Strong and Positive for Ourselves and Our Children During COVID-19, to assist Family Support Programs and families to stay strong and positive based on The Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors.