EMERGENCY REGULATIONS

On April 16, Governor Baker issued an Executive Order giving EEC the ability to provide regulatory relief to licensed residential providers in order to ensure that programs operate under protocols that prevent the spread of COVID-19 while maintaining the health and safety of children and staff.

As such, all existing residential and placement programs may now abide by updated Health & Safety Protocols and Minimum Requirements for Operating Licensed Residential Programs.

Thank you to the group care providers, temporary shelter providers and programs that work with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Department of Development Services (DDS), the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the Department of Mental Health (DMH), the Department of Youth Services (DYS), and other organizations to ensure the health and safety of youth across our state.

In these unprecedented times, your dedication to the needs of those in your care has been commendable. The Department of Early Education and Care, along with our sister agencies across the Executive Offices of Education and Health and Human Services, are working diligently to support you in your work to keep the youth and staff safe as we navigate the evolving public health crisis.

DOWNLOAD: COVID-19 Guidance for Organizations that Operate Congregate Care Programs
From the Executive Office of Health and Human Services
Last Updated: April 14

EMERGENCY RESIDENTIAL SITES

Governor Baker’s Executive Order also gives EEC the ability to create temporary emergency COVID-19 residential sites to address the needs of the children and youth being served at residential programs.

This does not change the decision to keep residential programs open during this State of Emergency. The goal of the temporary emergency residential sites is to accommodate the needs of COVID-19-exposed youth who cannot stay in their current residential placement.

Licensed programs with difficulty abiding by quarantine/isolation policies within their existing space should contact EEC about potentially identifying space to be used as a temporary emergency residential site. Any provider that is interested and believes they are prepared to open and operate a temporary emergency residential site may apply. All approved emergency sites must be able to comply with the Requirements for Operating an Emergency Residential Site , and must accept new residents for the duration of the site’s operation. A proposed site may be either:

  • A site that is not currently licensed by EEC; or
  • A currently licensed site that will be used to provide COVID-related services to residents referred from other programs and/or agencies.

Prospective programs shall submit a complete application to eec.emergency.residential@mass.gov with the following documents:

  1. Application to Operate an Exempt Emergency Residential Site
  2. Requirements Checklist with signed certification that the program meets all the requirements.

Please find all emergency residential sites policies and guidance here:

CONDITIONAL BACKGROUND RECORD CHECKS

The Department of Early Education and Care has developed an expedited background record check process for urgent childcare and residential providers in need of temporary or emergency staffing. The process will include a CORI, SORI and DCF check and will be coordinated through the EEC Licensing staff. For those individuals who do not have an existing BRC suitability, EEC will expedite their background record check, anticipated to be completed within 48-72 hours.

It is important to note that this process should be initiated through the program’s licensor. Please reach out to the licensor directly as there are procedures in place to check the status of staff in process and new staff in need of an urgent BRC. EEC is aware that fingerprinting sites may be closed.

The EEC Contact Center receives a daily listing of open sites, feel free to call the contact center or the fingerprint site prior to heading to the fingerprint location. Your licensor is the best point of contact to assist with expediting BRC during this time.

PLACEMENT

EEC recognizes that the current COVID-19 crisis poses unprecedented challenges for placement providers and the families they serve. The safety and wellbeing of children and families is paramount during this time. EEC encourages agencies to be resourceful and collaborate with their partner adoption and state agencies.

As you continue to demonstrate professionalism in your day-to-day operations, EEC has provided the following guidance. In addition, you are strongly encouraged to contact your individual EEC licensor with any questions or concerns you may have.

  1. Can contracted placement agencies continue to take new applications and placements during this time?

    EEC has reviewed and is in alignment with the “Guidelines for Foster Care/Kinship/adoption/Home Studies and PALS during COVID-19 Outbreak” for contracted agencies issued by The Department of Children and Families.

  2. Can private placement agencies continue to accept new adoptive family applicants during this time?

    Yes, adoption agencies can continue to take new applications. An agency may provide orientation, adoption counseling and begin the steps to complete a home study by gathering the application, running a background record check and obtaining initial required documentation as outlined in 5.09(4).

  3. Can a private placement agencies continue with a home study that had already begun prior to COVID -19?

    Yes. Adoption agencies may continue to complete previously initiated home studies, provided there has been suitable and adequate contact with the potential family, at least one in person home visit and have determined a low to non-existent level of concern. EEC recognizes that alternative methods for completion of the home study may need to be used for interviews and gathering documentation, etc.

  4. What should a private placement provider do if a home study update is due on a previously approved home?

    EEC considers all previously completed and approved home studies valid and current during this time. Private placement agencies should update documentation and resume home visits when deemed safe. 5.09 (4) 1-4

  5. Can a private placement agency conduct virtual post placement visits in the home during this time?

    Yes. Post placement visits are a necessary component of the adoption practice. EEC recognizes that there may need to be alternative methods of communication to satisfy the contact requirement. Private placement agencies are advised to maintain case specific documentation of contacts with families in accordance with post placement agreements. It is recommended that agencies continue to maintain all required documentation which will be necessary for finalization.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?

Isolation is the separation or restriction of activities of an ill person with a contagious disease from those who are well. Quarantine is the separation or restriction of movement of well persons who might have been exposed to a communicable disease while determining if they become ill.

Are there special cleaning protocols we should be following?

Perform the program's routine cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting practices, paying extra attention to frequently touched objects and surfaces, including doorknobs, bathrooms and sinks, keyboards, and bannisters. To ensure effective cleaning and disinfecting, always clean surfaces with soap and water first, then disinfect using a diluted bleach solution, alcohol solution with at least 70% alcohol, or an EPA-approved household disinfectant. Cleaning first will allow the disinfecting product to work as intended to destroy germs on the surface. Areas used by sick residents or staff should be closed off for use immediately, and programs are encouraged to wait as long as possible (preferably 24 hours) before beginning cleaning and disinfection to minimize potential for exposure to respiratory droplets.

What if we cannot accommodate a resident for isolation or quarantine?

Whenever possible, residential programs shall maintain current residents within their program while following the guidelines set forth by DPH. A licensed EEC program that can no longer accommodate a resident who is in need of quarantine or isolation due to space or other facility limitations shall notify their referral source and EEC. A referral would then be made by the appropriate referral source to an emergency residential site, either run by that agency or to another agency who accepts outside referrals.

Can we continue to allow visitors to the facility?

Because of the ease of spread of COVID-19 in communal environments, EEC strongly encourages all programs to immediately restrict all visitation to the facility. Residential programs continuing to permit visitation to their facilities should inform prospective visitors that they will not be allowed to enter the premises if they are showing any signs of illness. Additional precautions, including the implementation of screening protocols for all visitors, are suggested.

Can our residents go outside?

Residents may go outside, as permitted, provided they observe social distancing protocols at all times. Residents who are symptomatic and those who have been exposed must wear a mask or other cloth face covering at all times. Whenever social distancing is not possible, all individuals are encouraged to wear face coverings at all times.

What should we do if we don’t have any PPE or if we run out?

COVID-19 is primarily spread through droplets in the air. Maintaining physical distance from others is critical to avoid droplets that are formed when a person sneezes, coughs, yells, etc. In the absence of masks, strict physical distancing is important. In programs where facemasks are available but only in limited supply, the CDC offers guidance on the extended use of facemasks and the limited re-use of facemasks. In programs where facemasks are not available, staff and residents might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf); however, homemade masks are not considered PPE and should only be used with caution, since their capability to protect against infection is unknown. In case of shortage of alcohol-based sanitizer, residents and staff should increase handwashing practices and ensure that all individuals wash hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds after coming into contact with any surface, other person, or prior to touching the face.

If we need to isolate or quarantine a resident that is symptomatic or exposed, how do we do so while remaining compliant with the regulations around seclusion?

Isolation, quarantine, or other medically-related separation of residents, implemented as required to practice universal precautions and infection control procedures, is consistent with the regulations. Programs are encouraged to use the least restrictive measures which will prevent the spread of disease, while also addressing a child’s emotional well-being, in accordance with the regulations for residential programs.

Can we continue to accept new intakes during the COVID-19 State of Emergency?

Yes, all residential programs are expected to continue to accept new resident referrals when it is safe to do so, unless otherwise authorized by EEC. If programs need to close admissions or whenever they are open for new intakes, they must notify their EEC licensor.

Are there any precautions we should take with regard to new intakes?

Program staff should perform screening assessments and temperature checks for all new residents upon admission. Screening should take place outside of the residential space (i.e. lobby area) and before beginning the intake process, in order to identify and immediately isolate individuals with symptoms. New residents should remain in their room as much as possible during the first 14 days and maintain six feet distance from all other residents and staff, to the extent practicable.

Can school staff/teachers who have had BRC in a DESE approved format work unsupervised with youth in the residence? If not, what is the process for expedited BRC approval?

Programs that operate both a residential and educational component, and the educational setting is now closed, may utilize educational staff with a BRC completed through a DESE approved format in the group care program. For those programs that wish to hire educational or community-based staff who have had a BRC completed by another agency EEC will process these individuals through the expedited BRC process. Examples include, but are not limited, to public school teachers or day habilitation workers. Please be in contact with the appropriate licensing staff and they will assist you with the expedited BRC process.

Can training requirements be waived in order to prioritize other responsibilities for existing staff, and onboard new staff more quickly?

We understand that there are several training and certification requirements for residential programs that during this emergency situation programs are unable to complete. We expect programs to use their best judgement to ensure the health and safety of the residents and staff during this time. It is expected that basic life safety requirements will be reviewed with new staff as they are onboarded but understand that social distancing and ensuring a healthy work environment are critical at this time for all. Some basic onboarding, such as characteristics of residents served, behavior support, emergency evacuation and what to do in a crisis are critical safety measures for the new staff and the program. There will be situations where existing staff have not completed required training and orientation but are needed to meet the staffing ratio of the program and have unsupervised access to the resident. We understand that these are unique times and the need to ensure the health and safety of the residents is paramount. Examples and strategies that can be employed include:

  • The verbal portion of restraint/de-escalation/behavior support training can be completed via ZOOM (on-line learning) but the hands-on portion cannot.
  • During this time, providers who are due for certification/recertification for trainings, etc do not need to submit a waiver or variance request to postpone the training. Once we are beyond this pandemic and emergency situation, we will work with providers to establish new schedules.

What should I do if I can’t maintain staffing ratios?

We understand that maintaining staffing ratios during this time will be challenging for programs and leadership. We ask that you work with your licensor and DCF. We will work with you on a case-by-case basis to meet the needs of the program, staff and residents. EEC and DCF will work together to support programs to identify reasonable solutions.

What should I do if we need to change our capacity?

Again, we ask that you notify your licensor if you are contemplating the need to increase capacity, combine programs, share staffing, etc. Simultaneous communication should occur with contractual agencies involved. EEC will collaborate with the agencies to assure appropriate guidance is provided during these challenging times. We understand that programs are acting with the best interests of the residents and things are constantly evolving and changing.

How do we handle residents returning to the program from home, elopement etc. How do we handle new intakes? How do we handle staff entering program to begin shift?

We understand the unique challenges residential programs have managing Social Distancing and the stay at home advisory. Programs should follow the advice of the Residential and Congregate Care Programs 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance updated on March 25 which gives clear guidance on mitigating the risk of spread with screening and precautionary steps and these steps should be followed for any resident or staff entering the program. Given the Governor’s advisory, movement of residents into programs should be limited to the best of everyone’s ability. If you have questions regarding a specific case, please review the guidance and reach out to your licensor if needed.