Abstract: Building the Capacity of Child Welfare Systems to Serve Immigrant Families during COVID-19 (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

532P Building the Capacity of Child Welfare Systems to Serve Immigrant Families during COVID-19

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kristina Lovato, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Megan Finno-Velasquez, PhD, LMSW, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces
Sophia Sepp, MSW, MPH, Program Manager, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM
Robin Hernandez-Mekonnen, PhD, Associate Professor of Social Work, Stockton University, New Jersey
Background. During the past two decades, immigration policies have become increasingly punitive, with dire consequences for immigrant children and families in the U.S., including the daily threat of potential deportation or family separation. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened this vulnerability in an unprecedented way. With now over 31 million cases confirmed in the U.S. (SAMHSA, 2021), COVID-19 levels a new, unprecedented threat to millions of immigrants who were already vulnerable, afraid of seeking resources, and excluded from COVID relief options. Social service providers, including the child welfare system, face unique challenges in serving immigrant communities, due to factors such as immigrants’ fear and lack of eligibility for services. Children in immigrant families are at increased risk for child welfare system involvement due to these immigration enforcement policies. This study aims to address the following research question: 1) how have child welfare agencies and community organizations adapted their practices in order to engage immigrant families to navigate the impediments imposed by COVID-19?

Methods. This study used a qualitative research design to explore how child welfare agency representatives and community organizations who serve immigrant families involved in the child welfare system have experienced service provision during the COVID-19 pandemic. Semi-structured, one-on-one interviews were conducted via Zoom with n=30 child welfare agency representatives and community partners serving immigrant families across 10 states. Interviews were transcribed verbatim. Data analysis followed the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1999). Open coding was used to break down the data into smaller codes that could stand alone for categorizing and to detect repeated patterns. The repeated patterns were then sorted into concise categories to assist in identifying emerging themes.

Findings. The analysis of preliminary data (n=5) revealed that child welfare agency staff and partner organizations adapted their practices to engage immigrant families during the pandemic by: 1) developing unique partnerships that broaden cross-sectoral responses with family-serving institutions to deliver immediate basic needs such as: economic, housing, transportation, language access; 2) providing bicultural and bilingual psychoeducation to reduce fears of accessing services due to anti-immigrant climate and public charge; 3) utilizing culturally competent strategies to support families’ technology limitations accessing remote virtual-based services; and 4) proactively reaching out to immigrant families via wellness calls, texting, social media platforms, and virtual support groups to address social isolation caused by the pandemic to ensure child and family safety.

Implications. Findings from the study highlight the important role that child welfare agencies have in working with immigrant families amid the pandemic to enhance connection, access, and engagement with needed services. The sociopolitical climate and anti-immigrant policies and sentiment of recent years will require significant reform and trust building among providers to address the child protection needs. Implications from this study identify individual, organizational, and policy level strategies that can be implemented to improve service provision to promote equity and inclusion in child welfare practice. Implications have potential for strengthening programmatic and community responses for child welfare agencies and other service providers to mitigate the damage to immigrant families during COVID-19 recovery.