Strengths and problems of families in contact with child protective services during the COVID-19 pandemic
Keywords:child protection, family dynamics, COVID-19 pandemic
Objective: The study investigates the dynamics within families in contact with child protective services in reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic as perceived by social workers. Based on the Family Adjustment and Adaptation Response (FAAR) model, strengths and problems are outlined.
Background: Following the first lockdown of public life in March 2020, concerns about children’s well-being have been raised. Practitioners and scientists alike worried that particularly children in families with multiple problems would suffer severe abuse and neglect. However, it remains unclear how these families have actually been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the measures to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
Method: Child protection caseworkers from 40 child and youth welfare authorities across Germany were interviewed twice via telephone. The first interview was conducted during summer 2020, and the second interview two months later. Caseworkers were questioned about their professional experience in their daily work since March 2020. Moreover, they provided information on the perceived effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on families in contact with child protective services.
Results: The interviews were analyzed using content analyses. Six overall challenges for families were identified. Families reacted differently to these. The caseworkers reported problems in families like increased parental conflict, media use, and alcohol consumption during the first lockdown. Nevertheless in some families, the caseworkers also perceived there to be less stress and tension during the lockdown in March 2020 due to fewer school requirements. Furthermore, some families were able to establish routines, activate resources, and find solutions for problems on their own. At the time of the second interview, some families’ problems had increased, particularly regarding children’s difficulties at school due to insufficient homeschooling.
Conclusion: The results show that the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on child protection families are positive and negative. Some are resourceful in the face of adversities, and others show an aggravation of problems. The results are discussed in light of findings on family dynamics during the Covid-19 pandemic in other countries.