Apr 05, 2020 by Kris Dubé, The Welland Tribune

Family and Children’s Services Niagara executive director Anna Bozza. – FACS Niagara

Family and Children’s Services still has to make face-to-face contact with the people it serves in Niagara but only in “the most difficult situations,” says executive director Anna Bozza.

The organization has closed its Niagara Falls and Welland locations and consolidated services to its headquarters in St. Catharines.

Connections are being made with the more than 800 families across the region who are supported by FACS through “creative measures” such as online video chats, phone and pre-arranged one-on-one meetings when necessary.

If a situation determines a child needs to be removed from a home and taken into care, case workers wear protective equipment and exercise physical distancing, Bozza said.

The 150 foster families keeping 383 children under their roofs, as well as 100 independent youths under the FACS umbrella, have all been checked in on virtually.

No more than four children are under the care of one foster family within the FACS organization.

Bozza commended her staff for their dedication during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’ve been so adaptable in ensuring the safety of our children and families,” she said.

If a safety issue appears to exist in a home reported to FACS, workers will have to visit in-person, she said, adding that phone and internet dialogue is the new normal for the majority of contact being made.

“Whenever possible, we’re doing it remotely,” she said, adding visits to homes are determined necessary on a “case-by-case” basis.

“We don’t want them to be falling through the cracks,” said Bozza.

“We want to make sure they’re OK and have what they need,” she said, adding they are also provided cellular phones to keep in contact with.

Bozza said it’s important during a time like this to let Niagara know services have not come to a halt during the ongoing crisis.

“We are here, and we can get through this.”

FACS is monitoring the pandemic and orders from the government and will make adjustments as needed.

“We take the well-being of our community and staff very seriously. We will continue to provide vital services while taking measures to reduce physical contact and the risk of spreading the virus.”

The child welfare agency has two daycare centres in St. Catharines, both of which have been closed. Staff employed at these locations have been “acting as a vital support” to foster families, providing relief as children are out of school for the unforeseeable future.

Bozza wants the public to be aware that FACS is accessible and is receiving calls and inquiries at the same rate it always has.

“If you have concerns about a child or family, or need help, you can reach us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That has not changed.”

She said “there hasn’t been an increase” in activity, disputes between parents and guardians, with the FACS custody access team during the pandemic.