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How we kept families safe in 2020, and how your help is needed today

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"It really does take a village to raise a healthy, happy child – not only parents and guardians, but also social workers, foster parents, doctors, tutors, donors, mentors, volunteers and community partners. And if you can help in any way – now is the time to take that step."

By Amy Moncion, LCSW-QS, Embrace Families

I’ll be honest: It’s been a long year for social workers.

As advocates for child welfare, we know how to handle a full plate. In a good year, we’re busy helping families navigate financial hardship, job loss and even homelessness. When parents are struggling with mental illness or substance abuse disorder, we connect them with the resources to recover. We advocate for kids in schools, doctor’s offices, courtrooms and living rooms.

2020 brought all those issues – and some new ones – to the forefront. By May, more than 1.2 million Floridians were unemployed. Parents who still had jobs were forced to balance working hours with childcare and supervising online classes. Families that relied on school lunches and breakfasts to keep kids fed turned to food pantries. Across the board, our carefully constructed support networks were crumbling away.

Was it daunting? Absolutely. But no one goes into social work expecting it to be easy.

As early as March, Embrace Families – the leading nonprofit responsible for foster care and child welfare in Central Florida – was developing new strategies to navigate pandemic protocols. My team worked with more than 500 families across Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties last year, finding new ways to manage our workflow, and helping staff members process their own stresses and worries.

We continued making in-person family visits when necessary and possible. When it wasn’t, we adapted to virtual visits. Of course, there’s no perfect substitute for a face-to-face meeting – but going virtual had surprising advantages. Not only did it protect families from illness, but it also cut down on travel, which allowed our staff and families to meet more frequently.

Meanwhile, at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Osceola, we were dealing with the medical crisis from a different perspective. As a Medical Neglect Advocate, my colleague Dan Mawhinney works with families who have children with chronic health conditions such as Type I diabetes or cystic fibrosis – all of which require ongoing care with various specialty providers, typically at a children’s hospital.

Parents would often tell Dan how scared they were to take their child to the hospital, saying: “What if my child gets COVID-19? What if I get COVID-19, and bring it home to my family?” In a time of overwhelming fear and uncertainty, it’s no wonder they were worried. But thanks to his intervention – and the efforts of hundreds of social workers across Central Florida – kids got the care they needed. Dan’s team worked with families to address their concerns, keep them informed, and connect them with a compassionate team of medical providers.

Another obstacle was helping families navigate the switch to telehealth services. As many as 464,000 Floridians don’t have access to high-speed internet, and others may not have the electronics or expertise to run video conferencing software. As a result, a lot of kids were missing appointments – and it was a joint effort to make sure they got online to receive the care they needed.

While 2020 is now behind us, I know my job isn’t over: Across Central Florida, many families still need our support.

It really does take a village to raise a healthy, happy child – not only parents and guardians, but also social workers, foster parents, doctors, tutors, donors, mentors, volunteers and community partners. And if you can help in any way – whether it’s by donating money, giving your time or opening your home to a child in need – now is the time to take that step.

To learn more about child welfare in Central Florida, visit www.embracefamilies.org.

Amy Moncion is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Clinical Utilization Management Manager with Embrace Families. She has worked with youth in and out of foster care for 15 years.

Embrace Families envisions a community that embraces vulnerable children and families with support – so that every child has a safe, stable, loving home and a path to a bright future.

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