Coronavirus creating challenges for East TN foster and adoption agencies

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JACKSBORO, Tenn. (WATE) – At a time of uncertainty, social workers in East Tennessee are trying to calm concerns for families who have little ones in state custody.

More: Tracking Coronavirus

Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services says this is a challenging time balancing the need to make sure children are safe and well taken care of while doing all they can to protect everyone’s health.

DCS is limiting exposure in foster homes and residential treatment facilities:

  • Caseworkers are visiting by video conference because of extraordinary circumstances.
  • Staff continues making face-to-face contact for initial child protective services, any cases where safety is a concern or video-conferencing isn’t available.
  • Family visits are also happening by video conference when available.
  • During face-to-face visits, staff will be completing health questionnaires for any potential risks.
  • No home passes are being initiated for children in custody through at least March 31.
  • Foster parents need to ensure access to phone and video opportunities for visitation.
  • Foster parents are following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and asked to limit a child’s social interactions.
  • Symptom and temperature checks are being done on employees at residential treatment facilities. Those running a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher are not able to enter the facility.

This week Camelot Care Centers of East Tennessee, a private foster care agency, closed their facilities.

“We’re social workers and that does put us on the front lines,” Susan Sharp, recruitment and support specialist for Camelot, said.

Caseworkers are working remotely, following CDC guidelines and directives from DCS.

“Before we go into a home we’re making phone calls making sure everyone is symptom-free. We’ve implemented a questionnaire that we’re having the fill out, and we’re making sure that we’re symptom-free as well,” Sharp said.

Because caseworkers are having to work from home, Sharp says they’re making use of technology and video chatting with families.

“It’s challenging because we do deal with remote areas. Internet (availability) is spotty, but what we’re learning is that our foster families are willing to learn. They’re willing to look at different ways to do this,” she explained.

Sharp says home visits with children are only happening right now when necessary.

“We still want to see our kids. Again, if everybody in the house is symptom-free, and we are symptom-free, we’re going out and seeing our kids. We’re washing our hands after every visit. We’re using hand sanitizer.”

One challenge created by the coronavirus, Camelot has halted all in-person foster parent recruitment/training classes.

“The need for foster parents has not stopped. We are looking at other ways to get the training done. Hopefully launching an online option in April so if anyone’s interested in fostering, contact us,” Sharp said.

If you would like to sign up and become a foster parent for Camelot, click here.

Child advocates say there are so many unknowns and ripple effects they may not experience until this summer, but so far everyone is focused on their goal of helping kids.

“We are a family. We’re really leaning into each other right now and helping each other out,” Sharp said.

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