How Covid 19 and the Start of School is Placing Foster Care in More Jeopardy

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As our nation’s schools struggle with the decision to go back to school or have students learn at home virtually during this time of Covid 19, the country’s foster care system is facing another challenge in this area, as well.

Now, for so many children in foster care, during this time of Covid 19, there are so many uncertainties. There are so many uncertainties for foster parents, as well. Will school open? Will foster parents have to stay at home while children placed in their family have to go to school online? How do foster parents help their child online? So many questions. So much anxiety, for all involved.

For many children in foster care, our schools are the last place they want to be. For that foster child who has been taken from his family, from his home, from his friends, and all he knows, and suddenly placed into a strange home late one evening, only to be forced to attend a strange school the following day, it is incredibly traumatic. Many children placed under foster care supervision suffer from at least one learning-based developmental delay. Many other children in the custody of child welfare agencies exhibit the need for special education services In addition, students in foster care exhibit an array of academic difficulties, including cognitive abilities that are weaker than traditional students. Federal and state funding to assist in this problem is lacking, as well.

Yet, with many schools across the nation making the decision to close their doors and have children learn at home, virtually, during Covid 19, foster parents are facing an additional burden, one that they did not initially foresee when making the decision to care for children in foster care in their homes.

“I can barely keep up with Child Protective Services,and everything they’re asking and requesting now add in all the teachers and virtual schooling,” said Julie, a foster parent from Florida. “ It’s just insane. Foster parents feel like they’re failing over and over again and again.”

Wendy, a foster parents from South Carolina, is also struggling. “We did virtual for 2 months the end of last school year. My foster son has an IEP. No services were provided due to COVID. Like no speech therapy or extra reading specialized instructions. I don’t see how he’s going receive this now with continued virtual learning.”

Jessi, a foster parent from Missouri, also is concerned about the lack of proper support systems and resources for her children in foster care. “At this time, we need teachers to lay eyes on these kids and help us figure out what they need to be successful. Without having proper accommodations and curriculum modification, we don’t believe that virtual learning will benefit them at this time.”

Indeed, Tennessee foster parent Dyana, feels the same way. “It’s hard. All of my children from the state are so incredibly delayed. I have a 13 year old who can’t read or write, a 6 year old with the development of a 3 year old, and 4 year old with the development of a 2 year old.”

For those older youth in foster care, there is also the concern that many will simply stop working in regards to the school work. The John Burton Advocates for Youth surveyed 60 social service agencies to learn how youth aged 18 to 21 were fairing during the pandemic. Thirty-four agencies, serving 1,728 youth, responded, and 74% of them said they served foster youth who stopped participating in high school or college classes because of the pandemic. Sixty-five percent of agencies said they served youth who needed technology support, such as a laptop, tutoring or the internet.

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For many foster parents, the lack of supervision has been an especially challenging one. Many foster parents are employed full time, and work during the day, while the children placed in their home from foster care are either in school, or at day care. “I am struggling with the fact that the kids are out of school but I still have to work. We need to find someone to keep them. When I get off work and return home, I try and teach them in a 2 hour period,” said foster parent Ashley. South Dakota foster parent Sheri states that, “I work in healthcare so staying home with my kids from foster care right now is not an option.”

In addition, many agencies are concerned that they will lose foster parents during this time of Covid 19. Indeed, child welfare agencies nationwide are struggling to find foster families for the children under their watch during the COVID-19 crisis, according to a report from The Marshall Project. “Across the board some families are not accepting new placements, “ said Christine Huber, assistant director of Stanislaus County Community Services Agency. According to Huber, many of those foster parents referred to concerns about the coronavirus.

“My work schedule is all over the place and I will be lucky if I do not lose my job,” said Katrina, a foster parent from California.

Washington foster parent Geneva had similar concerns. “We do short term/emergency placements for elementary age boys. I will now not able to take any foster children on the days I work. Normally I could if they were in school but I can’t leave them home alone”

Shelly, a foster parent in Oregon, stated, “Our schools are starting virtually . I will not take new kids during this time. Both of my adopted kids are special education, both on the spectrum. I just do not see how with out support I could take kids right now that are school age.”

Agencies recognize the difficulties that foster families are facing, and are working hard in finding solutions to help both the foster families and the children placed in the homes. “We are very concerned about our families who don’t have natural supports in place; who perhaps are struggling with substance abuse challenges, domestic violence, mental health issues; who are financially struggling,” said Boston Department of Children and Families employee Adriana Zwick,. “There’s so many things that are coming together at this time that make it difficult.

The National Foster Parent Association (NFPA) has been actively working to help foster parents across the nation. According to Executive Director Irene Clements, the NFPA has been “adding links to resources as we get links appropriate for children and families, we are taking calls and making referrals when possible.”

Yet, many foster parents remain concerned, and confused, looking for answers and receiving little guidance. “No school, visits cancelled, church cancelled, and the children isolated from the friends they have made,” said foster parent Jo Larson. “It isn’t anything physical, tangible, or able to be solved by throwing a dollar at it.”

Perhaps Stacy, a foster and adoptive parent from Missouri, sums up what many foster parents are feeling. “I adopted from foster care. My son has extreme emotional & learning needs, and now he is pretty much disabled too. On a crutch and looking at possible hip replacement soon. He did not like video games, but now, it is all he has to do. He is getting more depressed. Me too. I need alone time occasionally and he needs to see friends and teachers. He refuses to do much online learning. Failed science last year, and failed online summer school. We need help. He needs school.”

Dr. John DeGarmo is an international expert in parenting and foster care and is a TEDx Talk presenter. Dr. John is the founder and director of The Foster Care Institute. He and his wife have been foster parents to over 60 children who have come through their home. He is an international consultant to schools, legal firms, and foster care agencies, as well as an empowerment and transformational speaker and trainer for schools, child welfare, businesses, and non profit organizations. He is the author of several books, including Helping Foster Children in School: A Practical Guide for Foster Parents, Social Workers, and Teachers, and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN HLN, Good Morning, America, and NBC, FOX, CBS, and PBS stations across the nation. He and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.

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