The Coronavirus continues to upend foster care and child welfare, leaving foster care agencies and foster parents across the nation trying to find not only answers, but resources and support.
“We are lacking consistency, routine, and an overall feeling of stability and security. These kids have had their whole world changed, and now it is being shaken up again,” said Jo Larson, a Minnesota foster parent.
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. “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 Yeske. South Dakota foster parent Sheri Berg states that, “I work in healthcare so staying home with my kids from foster care right now is not an option.”
To be sure, these are challenges that many parents from traditional families are also facing. Yet, for foster parents, the challenges are deeper than that. One of the responsibilities that foster parents face is transporting the children in their home to visitations with their birth parents and biological family members. Often times, visitations take place at child welfare offices, while other times, visitations may occur at public places, such as parks, restaurants, churches, and other public venues. Visitations are important as they help to maintain the relationship between both child and adult. Along with this, many foster parents have very strong relationships with the birth parents and during visitations, trust is built and children can grow and develop in a healthy fashion, as a result. Kentucky State Governor Andy Beshar has limited these visits and investigations due to “imminent risk or high risk-only circumstances.” Child welfare workers in Kentucky have had to suspend monthly visits with foster care families, despite the fact that nearly 10,000 children are placed in the state’s foster care system.
“How do we get to a point where kids can safely return home and kids can visit with their parents? That’s really the focus right now,” says Florida’s FamiliesFirst Network President Mark Jones. Jones has seen an increase of children coming into care in his area. Indeed, he states that before Covid 19, 75–80 children a month were coming into the system. Now, that number is about 100.
Oregon foster parent Samantha Mae has been struggling with visitations during the coronavirus pandemic. “Having to send our children from foster care to visits even though some of us are at a higher risk has been hard,” said Mae. “Our 9 month old foster son is just getting over a nasty cold with an ear infection, we have all had one thing or another since thanksgiving and our immunity is so low, yet we still have to send him.”
Other foster parents are faced with the difficulty of getting the services and support they and the children placed in their home both need. Michigan foster parent Bonnie Wood faces the lack of support from her agency. “Our agency closed and can only do phone home visits.” Essential services such as therapy sessions, drug counseling, and even court appearances have also been affected by Covid 19. Many agencies are having to re-think how they provide services for their foster parent, and for the children.
School has also placed additional stress upon foster care agencies and parents. Many foster parents are unable to provide the educational support the children may need, while learning at home through Distance Learning. Some foster care agencies are discovering that those children at home are not engaging in their work during Covid 19. “More than a quarter of the youth we serve in foster care — 26 percent — have disengaged from school, and there are many other concerning trends,” Lisa Chin, CEO of the nonprofit Treehouse, said in a press release this month.
Like so many others, caseworkers are now working from home, and are unable to visit their foster parents, and provide the assistance and resources they need. As a result, some foster parents feel as if they have been forgotten, or even ignored, during the pandemic. “We have two teens who joined us two weeks ago. With 4 kids total here, I just feel like I don’t have answers for them,” said California foster parent Catherine Loew.’
“We had a lot of kids that were close to being reunified with their birth family but when the pandemic hit everything just kind of stopped,” said Beth Greene, Director of Hope Foster Care.
As the Covid 19, or Coronavirus pandemic, continues to keep children and families inside during this time of self isolation, more children face the risk of abuse and neglect while at home. “When families are forced to be isolated and their incomes potentially limited I think it’s going to create a lot more stress for families that are already volatile,” said Kim Garrett, CEO of Palomar, Oklahoma City’s family justice center. Indeed, Garrett believes that this time of self isolation may very well “increase domestic violence and child abuse”.
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 over the past 3 months,” said foster parent Jo Larson. “It isn’t anything physical, tangible, or able to be solved by throwing a dollar at it.”
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 has been a foster parent for 17 years, and he and his wife have had over 60 children 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 The Foster Care Survival Guide 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.