Method: This mixed-methods study included qualitative data from focus groups with child welfare caseworkers conducted in November 2021, and quantitative data from the FTDM feedback surveys collected in October 2021 and March 2022. There were 679 participants who completed surveys including 87 youth and families, 204 caseworkers and supervisor, 137 other professionals, and 251 facilitators. Themes are identified from focus groups and open-ended questions from FTDM surveys and descriptive analysis was employed to analyze FTDM responses.
Results: This study examined the impact of COVID-19 on FTDM practice specifically as it relates to participations, communication and engagement, and service access and needs.
Child welfare workers and facilitators reported that since switching from in-person FTDM to virtual practice due to COVID-19, participation of youth and family has increased. Although virtual participation increased flexibility and accessibility of participants, the findings on participation from focus groups are mixed. Findings from facilitators showed that even though family was encouraged to bring support, they did not bring anyone in the virtual meetings.
Concerns related to communication and engagement during virtual practice were raised from different stakeholders. Child welfare workers (14.6%) and other professionals (26.7%) reported that COVID-19 negatively impacted communication. In addition, virtual meetings raise potential threats to the confidentiality and safety related to families. Youths and families reported that they did not have a space where they felt comfortable having virtual meeting; 11.9% reported that it was hard to share their needs and strengths in the virtual meeting.
Both FTDM surveys and focus groups highlighted the difficulties in identifying and providing services to meet the needs of families. Less than half of youth and families reported that their needs related to the pandemic were met. Findings from focus groups also indicated that it was difficult to connect families to services during the pandemic, especially for small jurisdictions where less resources are available.
Virtual preferences were examined among all stakeholders through FTDM feedback surveys. Most participants reported that they prefer virtual meetings.
Conclusion and Implications: The feedback from stakeholders involved in FTDMs during COVID-19 expands upon existing literature about virtual social work practice. Findings from this study shed light on future practice and relevant policy. For example, on-going training on using platform and more resources are needed to equip and prepare child welfare workers to better engage and address families’ needs through virtual practice. More research is needed on how to effectively combine in-person and virtual practice in the future.