Protecting children and families during isolation
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Child welfare caseworkers in Denver are working to safely visit families who may be at risk during this time of social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Denver Human Services supervisors told Insight’s John Ferrugia that caseworkers are adapting to find the best ways to keep everyone safe during this challenging time.

“We can meet with the family outside of the home, in their backyard or on the front porch,” said Josie Berry, a deputy division director for Denver Human Services. “We want to make sure that we're following the guidelines in regard to social distancing and just making sure that we're keeping ourselves healthy and the families healthy as well.”

Child welfare staff members are required to meet with families in person when they open an investigation after receiving referrals that indicate children may be at risk. Those requirements have not loosened in the era of social distancing.

“We are required in rule to see kids and families face to face within our assessments,” Berry said. “Once the assessment part is complete, if we need to do follow-up with the family, such as providing them with resources or asking additional questions, we can meet with them virtually at that point.”

Once caseworkers have established initial contact with families, they are asking routine questions before making additional visits. If a family member has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is exhibiting symptoms, caseworkers can ask for exceptions to do virtual check-ins instead.

Jaime Trujillo, a social caseworker supervisor, said she is telling the workers she supervises to try their best to be a calming presence in the lives of the families they contact.

“The families are going to feed off of their vibe and [view] us as an ally and as a support during these very difficult times,” Trujillo said.

DHS officials say calls to the child abuse hotline fell while Denver Public Schools students were on an extended spring break for three weeks in response to coronavirus. The department said it received 1,246 calls in the first 15 days of March but only 794 calls in the final half of the month.

Officials say it is common for calls to decline during summer and other breaks in school.

Denver students began online classes this week, and child welfare officials say they have been collaborating with the district to discuss ways for teachers to watch for signs that children may be at risk.

“They are doing virtual classrooms with kids. They are going to be touching base with kids,” Berry said. “So I would imagine that just as they always have, they will refer to us if they have worries or concerns about kids that they're in contact with, even if it is virtually.”

To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call 1-844-CO-4-KIDS (1-844-264-5437). This hotline is available 24/7.

The city of Denver has resources available for families and individuals who need assistance during the coronavirus crisis.

This story is part of a collaboration with FRONTLINE, the PBS series, through its Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.