Directives for Out-Of-Home Placements during the COVID-19 Pandemic – A Review of Policy in the USA and the UK

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus to be a pandemic. It was expected that a considerable proportion of the world population would be infected. Various countries around the world declared a state of emergency and announced restrictions and guidelines to ensure social distancing, which is aimed at limiting the spread of the disease. The pandemic has far-ranging implications for the out-of-home placement systems, which have to cope with the complexities of caring for children whose families and environment, even in regular times, are unable to meet their needs and rehabilitate them so they reach their full potential.

In 2016, in Israel, 7,168 at-risk children were in residential facilities of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services – 72% of all children in out-of-home placements. The remaining 28% were in foster homes. In contrast, in other developed countries, the ratio of out-of-home children in residential facilities vs. foster care is reversed, or at least equal. In Israel, children are placed in foster care from birth to age 18 and in residential facilities from age 7-18, with some special exceptions.

This report reviews the directives issued by the government departments responsible for social services in the United Kingdom and United States, and NGOs caring for children in out-of-home placements in selected states in the US. We chose countries and states where we were able to get good information for the review. Our sources of information were official publications and websites.

The main findings are set out below. Details of the guidelines and recommendations appear in the Hebrew report.

Main Findings

  • In Israel, unlike other Western countries, at-risk children who cannot remain at home are more frequently placed in residential facilities than in foster care.
  • The out-of-home placement systems in the US and UK were not prepared for a pandemic and there were no prior guidelines on the subject.
  • In the context of the current pandemic, social service policy in the US and UK is following health ministry guidelines.
  • Social service policies in those states and countries, which have been implemented in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, largely relate to the functioning of social workers during the crisis and to the population of children in out-of-home placements and their families, with an emphasis on foster children.
  • The gaps and/or difficulty in implementing social welfare policy are partially addressed.
  • The emphasis in social service policy in the US and UK in regard to foster children is on continuing the social workers’ routine work while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the children and foster families. This is based on the understanding that video calls are not a substitute for monthly visits to foster families, which the social workers are expected to continue to conduct.
  • The emphasis in social service policy in the US and the UK in regard to children in residential facilities is to maintain the required ratio between the number of staff and the number of children through augmenting staff with the help of local authorities and educators from regular educational institutions or with staff from special educational institutions that are closed due to the situation.

For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in English, press here.

For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in Hebrew, press here.