Issued March 13, 2020 (updated 4/3/2020):

NOTE: If you have any questions or concerns about potential Coronavirus symptoms, please call the Prince George’s County Health Department Coronavirus hotline at (301)883-6627 during 8:00am – 8:00pm to receive updated information about the coronavirus disease. *Please contact 911 for medial emergencies only. Do not contact 911 for Coronavirus related issues.

The safety of the children we serve, our volunteers and our staff is of paramount importance. We are determined to take prudent measures to help keep people safe, while continuing to fulfill our critical mission. We’re adjusting our practices and protocols to prioritize safety while still supporting our essential advocacy for children in need. As the situation is constantly evolving, we will continue to evaluate our practices and response, and this page will be updated to reflect the most recent information for our community. 

Maryland schools will be closing from March 16th – April 24th. As of March 30th at 8pm, all of Maryland is on stay-at-home orders.

Child Visits

For our volunteer advocates and staff- (updated 3/19/2020, statement from Ann Marie Binsner, Executive Director) “The time has come for CASA to suspend all in-person visits with our children and youth.This decision was made in consultation with the Department of Social Services, our CASA colleagues around the State, and our foster care agency partners. To protect the health of all, we must abide by the social distancing protocols that are unique to this crisis. 

Staying in contact with your child or youth during this period of social distancing is as important as ever. Children and teens are impacted by the unknown, and that fear can manifest itself in depression, anxiety or concerning behaviors. Being available to your youth and their caregivers to check in, lend support, or facilitate communication continues to be a very important CASA role. CASA is asking that each volunteer maintain contact with their youth by video chat or phone call once per week. See here for tips from our colleagues on how to set up video chats. Additional contact can be made by text, email or phone. Each youth is unique and your communication should be tailored to their age and willingness to “chat.”  Some volunteers should be checking in with caregivers, rather than children based on age or developmental level. Consult with your Case Supervisor to determine the level of communication that is right for you. 

CASA also wants to be available to support you during this crisis. Your Case Supervisor continues to work remotely and can be reached by email. Please communicate with your Case Supervisor about additional ways to keep in touch as we are busy creating additional ways to communicate using technology. Expect weekly contact from your Case Supervisor to check in and offer support. They will also be inquiring about the weekly contact and be available to troubleshoot any issues or concerns that come up. 

We are aware that our new normal is very strange and requires quite a bit of adaptation to our daily routines. We encourage you to share any challenges you face in the coming weeks so CASA can adapt as well. We appreciate your commitment to your CASA youth’s well-being, if I can be of assistance to any of you, please reach out to me directly at ambinsner@pgcasa.org” – Ann Marie Binsner, Executive Director

  • It is important that CASA volunteers stay in contact with their CASA youth to make sure they continue to be safe and healthy. During this period, we require weekly contact via phone or FaceTime (or a similar video conferencing tool) during the hiatus of in-person visits. Video calling is preferred to allow for visual check-ins, however phone calls are acceptable if video calling is unavailable. Texting, emailing, and chatting are acceptable ways to supplement communications.
  • Staying in contact is particularly important because schools are closed. CASA volunteers can check in with children and their families (foster and biological) in an effort to ensure that they are maintaining their physical and mental health, that they are able to complete any assigned schoolwork, that they have a sufficient supply of medication, and to support them through any anxiety that they may be feeling at this time. We also want to check in and make sure that older youth and families have enough groceries and other supplies. If you find that older youth or families need assistance, please communicate with CASA staff so we communicate with the Department of Social Services and provide support in addressing those concerns

If a youth or family member is experiencing a true mental health crisis, the following resources are available-

Call the Crisis Hotline 301-429-2185 for a mental health crisis or suicide prevention, mobile response
Call 211 for County hotline services including mental health crisis or suicide prevention (no mobile response).

To support a child and their family, when making weekly check in calls, inquire about items such as:

  • Health of all household members — physical and mental
  • How are school/distance learning assignments being completed? Packets are available on the PGCSS website. What was sent by the district/teacher? Is the teacher available via email to help, if needed? Could the CASA assist virtually?
  • What is the family doing to keep busy daily?
  • Is anyone in the household still working outside the home?
  • Has the child/children had any issues behaviorally since being home?
  • If the child’s visitation has been suspended due to COVID-19, have they been able to stay in touch with their parent/sibling(s) by phone?
  • Is the household having any other challenges? (Financial, shortage of food, childcare for healthcare workers/first responders, etc.)
  • Are there upcoming non-urgent medical/dental appointments for the child/children, and if so, has DSS been consulted to determine whether these appointments should be postponed?
  • Does the caretaker have supportive individuals they are relying on right now to stay calm and healthy?
  • For more information, please see the National CASA GAL Association’s guidelines on safely staying in contact with children during this time. 

Here are some great tips and tools from our colleagues at CASA Wisconsin for setting up video calling, ideas for activities you can do virtually and guidance on advocacy at a distance.

Resources for Kids and Families

Here are some resources you can share with kids and parents/foster parents while schools are closed:

Mental health resources.

Access to free meals: 

Education and Technology:

Employment:

  • Resources for job seekers. 
  • Assistance for laid off workers- Prince George’s County residents who have been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible for a $200 EPG Visa Cash Card. Applications will open Monday, April 6th, at employpgedge.com. Priority will be given to Prince George’s County residents who were earning $19 or less per hour prior to their layoff.
  • Childcare for essential workers.

Legal:

  • Community Legal Services staff are working remotely to continue to assist with civil legal questions including family law, landlord & tenant, and domestic violence. Their services are available online at www.clspgc.org or via their hotline at 240-391-6370. 

The fear and anxiety that many of us are feeling may only be compounded for the children and youth we serve who have also been affected by trauma, and may trigger trauma-associated thoughts/behaviors in/from the child or create additional tension in the child’s home or placement. Advocates must remember that advocacy for a child is holistic and is always much wider than the child themselves. Please be sure to make phone contact with anyone else involved with the child’s case during this time to determine what their status is currently in relation to the child in question (if services are suspended, being offered remotely, etc.) This includes contact with biological parents, if the child is not currently in their custody. Be sure to make contact and help connect them with needed resources they may be seeking – the same as you would the child’s current caretaker.CASA Volunteers can be a support to resource and biological parents during normal times, and this situation is no different. Volunteers are encouraged to check in with caretakers regularly as a form of support and to lend a listening ear. Parents may be struggling with distance learning school work, children’s lack of traditional routine or lack of services that support our children (therapy, visitations, after school activities, etc) All of these things may cause trauma reactions for children that already have a history of trauma. Caretakers and CASAs should be aware of this and have behavioral management tools to support youth if needed.

It is vital to have eyes on the children we serve in any way possible to help them stay calm and connected. Not seeing a child in these most stressful, difficult times when connections are most valuable could undo all of the work done to create a relationship. We therefore encourage the volunteer to maintain regular contact with the child either through the use of Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or FaceTime (or other non-video tools if needed), especially where kids are in congregate care settings, such as shelters or RTCs.

Here are some tips on talking to kids about COVID-19. 

Presenting in Court

The Prince George’s County Circuit Court has issued an Administrative Order closing the Courthouses to the public. We know there will be limited hearings, but it is unlikely that regularly scheduled CINA hearings will proceed unless there is a statutory time limitation period to consider. The Court is attempting to respond with remote participation options. We are in touch with the Department of Social Services and the Court and will take their lead about meetings and hearings.

Contact with Case Supervisor

  • Staff and volunteers will utilize telework technologies to complete work and engage in supervision. CASA staff will maintain contact with you through phone, video calls and email. Please stay in touch with your supervisor weekly and check your email messages often so we may communicate with you quickly.
  • Regular Case Supervision will proceed, as required, via phone or video call.
  • Court reports and volunteer contact logs will be especially important during this time (contact note and activity forms can be found here https://pgcasa.org/toolkit/). Unless otherwise directed by your Case Supervisor, please plan to submit your court report on the original due date.

Trainings, Events, Info Sessions & Other Group Activities

All CASA in-person trainings sessions and information sessions are cancelled until further notice.

We know that our best source of new volunteers is the recommendation of a current volunteer advocate, and we still have big goals for recruitment this year in order to help the 300 children who still need a CASA. 

We want our current volunteers to know that we’re equipping ourselves to continue recruiting, and we held our spring information session online and our initial volunteer training will be held virtually through an online, video conferencing tool. We are also working to hold online in-service trainings. 

We are currently evaluating all future group activities and events for our children, volunteers and supporters. We will make timely, appropriate decisions prioritizing the safety of our community and will immediately inform all affected by any decisions to postpone or cancel activities. 

Our Volunteer Appreciation scheduled for Thursday, April 23rd  will be postponed. We will find an appropriate time and place to tell our volunteers how much we appreciate everything they do!!!

Continuing Education During Social Distancing

Use this time of self-quarantine and “social distancing” to better yourself and your community by gaining additional knowledge for your CASA role. We have many resources available for virtual in-service opportunities on our In-Service Training page. We are also looking into online learning tools and will keep you posted on virtual in-service trainings we will make available. 

Stay Informed

We encourage all of our volunteers, staff and supporters to stay informed and protect themselves and others. As this is ongoing, we will make any needed updates to our protocol on this

We will update this page and will inform our staff and volunteers of urgent changes via email. 

You can follow local updates through the Prince George’s County Department of Health and recommendations on the Maryland State Health Department’s COVID-19 website https://phpa.health.maryland.gov/Pages/Novel-coronavirus.aspx

Prince George’s County resources and status of county agencies. 

Recommendations from the CDC can be found here. 

This is uncharted territory for our CASA program, we appreciate your support and feedback on this guidance. We greatly appreciate your attention to this information and guidelines to help protect you and the children we serve.

Questions? Call us at 301-209-0491 or email us (staff@pgcasa.org) with any questions or concerns you have may have.