COVID-19 and the Holidays

by LeAnn McKoy •

COVID-19 created the opportunity for the NC Division of Social Services to review its policies and practices to ensure the safety of children and families. We all have learned to wear masks, wash our hands more, and maintain physical distance from family and friends. New processes were adopted, while safety of children and families remained the priority for the Division and local agencies.

Local child welfare agencies were given guidance to ensure the safety of children, families, and workers during COVID-19. Here are a few examples of policy exemptions allowed during the pandemic:

  • Agencies were allowed to use videoconferencing for some face-to-face visits.
  • Agencies were approved to virtually facilitate Deciding Together, an individualized training for foster and adoptive parents.
  • Telehealth appointments were encouraged to meet requirements for medical screenings of children and licensed foster and adoptive families.
  • Local, state, private, and community stakeholders partnered to create strategies to meet the needs of children and families.

Although there were some exemptions, conditions of Rylan’s Law were not waived. This state law requires local child welfare agencies to observe and document two successful visits at least seven days apart, each lasting at least one hour, and within 30 days of the court hearing where reunification is to be recommended. Maintaining these requirements demonstrates the state’s commitment to children being safely reunified with their parents or legal guardians.

Approaching Holidays

We may remain physically distant, but we can still strengthen our emotional connections to others. Here are some suggestions to keep children, youth, and families connected during the holiday season:

Continue face-to-face visits whenever it is safe and permissible. Parks and open areas are great places to visit while maintaining social distance. As always, make sure personal protection equipment (PPEs) are used whenever possible and appropriate for the child’s age. Follow CDC guidelines (found here: and remember the 3Ws—Wear, Wash, and Wait.

Be creative! This is the perfect time to learn and share new skills or hobbies. Homemade gifts and cards can help children and families communicate with those important to them. There are plenty of free virtual camps and workshops available online. When children and youth are online, please provide appropriate supervision and guidance.

Use technology when allowed, under appropriate supervision. Host virtual family game nights. Use teleconferencing to read bedtime stories. Encourage engagement beyond the minimum court ordered requirements, if possible. Talk with your social worker or case manager before making changes to the court ordered visitation plan.

For updates and resources related to COVID please visit the NC Department of Health and Human Services at

LeAnn McKoy is a Foster Care & Adoption Policy Consultant with the NC Division of Social Services.