How is COVID-19 affecting children in foster care?
If you’re trying to work with a foster care and adoption agency these days, you know that the current health crisis has changed the child welfare landscape. Depending on where you live, you may be attending orientations and classes online. Or, you may just be waiting for the day when people can gather together again.
As frustrating as these delays can be, please persevere! Because as with many crises, this one is hitting vulnerable people—including children in foster care—the worst. And it’s possible that more children will be in need of safe, loving homes as we move toward a “new normal.”
- Children are losing their support system at school. All children’s educations are being disrupted. For children in foster care, who can fall behind due to school moves, missing school can mean loss of hard-won gains. It also means loss of a supportive community. As one high school student wrote in this Chronicle of Social Change essay: “Unlike some students, school is my safe place, my home. I spent years trying to find a place that I could call my home, somewhere I felt accepted and loved.”
- Visits with birth families and court dates are being disrupted. When children enter foster care, the goal is that they be reunified with their birth family. Visitations are an important part of that plan, and they are now taking place online—or not at all. As one mother of a toddler told NPR: “She basically hangs up the phone. So it’s like, very emotional for me to try to do Facetime when she’s not really paying attention. I’m usually, like, you know, feeding her, singing to her, playing with her, we’re bonding really good, and it’s like it snatched it away from me, this whole virus and being away from her now.”
- Children are losing the reassurance of routines and access to in-person therapeutic services. Any foster parent will tell you that structure and routines can be critical to a child dealing with past trauma. As one father shared about his six-year old son in this NBC News piece: “His routine is gone, even though he’s with his siblings and in familiar, safe settings. A hundred times a day he asks if he’s going to school tomorrow. It’s difficult to help them understand what’s going on.”
- Youth in college are in limbo. Many college students have taken refuge with parents to avoid being alone and continue their classes online. But as Children’s Bureau Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner notes in a letter to colleges and universities, youth who were in foster care may not have a place to go.
- Odds are worsening for children aging out of foster care. Already at risk of homelessness and joblessness, foster youth turning 18 or 21 are gaining independence—and losing benefits—at the worst possible time. In response, states like California and Ohio are extending support to allow youth to remain in care.
- There is an underlying, ugly irony: fewer reports but potentially increased abuse. As USA Today reported: “Calls to child-abuse hotlines have plummeted across the nation as schools remain closed and kids are outside the view of teachers and other professionals mandated to report suspected abuse.” This, combined with the fact that families are under increased stresses that may lead to abuse, is making the child welfare community anticipate that there will be an even greater need for foster parents in the coming months.”