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.
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. Yet, the challenges persist. Indeed, many foster parents remain concerned, and confused, looking for answers and receiving little guidance. As Covid continues to place challenge upon challenge to the foster care system, the system needs to be improved, for all involved; the children and youth placed in the system, foster parents caring for the children, agencies and case workers, and the biological parents of the children, as well. Here are 15 ways to fix foster care during this time of Covid.
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. 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. Teachers, as well, often report suspected child abuse but are not likely to see students in the coming weeks if schools remain closed. In many states, Child welfare workers have had to suspend monthly visits with foster care families due to Covid related concerns. Other foster parents are faced with the difficulty of getting the services and support they and the children placed in their home both need.
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. 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? Most children in foster care are far being in reading and math skills. More reform needs to be placed upon children in foster care while in school. Along with that, foster parents need help navigating the children placed in their home who are distant learning, or taking school classes online.
Astudy by The Foster Care Institute found that foster parent retention suffers from several different factors. Foster families always rely on community support, but they need it more than ever now. Foster parents need a number of training hours and CEUs each year, in order to remain licensed as a foster care home, with each state setting the number of hours required each year. Some states have inflexible training schedules for the foster parent classes that happen only on certain evenings and at certain locations. With Covid, foster parents have found it increasingly difficult in regards to attaining their required training hours. As a result, many states have allowed foster parents more flexibility when it comes to gaining the required training, and are providing training programs online for their foster parents, a necessity in today’s world of social isolation. Yet, foster parents also need more online support services, including online orientations, social media support groups, and more virtual training opportunities.
4. Education and Advocacy There are a great many misconceptions and false beliefs about the foster care system. There are also not enough advocates for children in foster care. Perhaps the biggest impact one can make with those children placed in foster care is to become an advocate of change. Do your research, and find out as much about foster care and foster children as you can. Contact lawmakers, politicians, through means of emails, letters, phone calls, and other means of communication, and bring attention to the needs of children in care.
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. Covid has disrupted these visitaitons. In truth, visitations are important as they help to maintain the relationship between both child and adult. As a result, there has been a great deal of uncertainty and all these other limitations in regards to how children can interact with their birth parents online, and how foster parents are to monitor and supervise these online visitations. Indeed, many foster parents have noted that they feel uncomfortable with online visitations taking place in their homes. Foster parents need a stronger support system in place, coaching on better understanding how virtual conferencing works, and better monitoring and supervision when it comes to online visitations between the child placed in their home and the birth family.
6. Rules, Policies, and Paperwork Far too many social workers and foster parents spend a great deal of time on paperwork. In addition, there are countless policies, rules, and regulations that foster parents, and case workers, must abide by’ rules that are not “normal” for everyday parenting. It often interrupts services many walks of life for the children in foster care, as well. As Covid has led to many agencies being understaffed, there have been delays in new foster parents being trained and licensed, birth parents have met difficulties in attaining the requirements for reunification, and the adoption process for those children who are unable to be reunified has slowed, as well. In the end, many times these policies and regulations foster families, case workers, and children in care from living as “normal” a lifestyle, leading to frustration on many levels. There needs to be less paperwork, less “red tape” and more action on behalf of the child.
While the end goal of foster care is Reunification between the child and the birth family, premature reunification often leads to a child’s re-entry into the foster care system or even death. A child placed in a foster home can be taken out of a safe, stable, and loving pre-adoptive home without notice and placed into a relative’s home without the relative providing proof of basic needs like running water, a bed, clothing, or food. Furthermore, current law allows uprooting and placing the child with an unemployed relative who has ongoing domestic violence, anger issues, and a substance abuse addiction simply because they’re blood relatives, even if the child has never met that relative. It’s no wonder children in foster children are almost twice as likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as U.S. war veterans, according to a study released Wednesday by the Harvard Medical School (HMS), the University of Michigan and Casey Family Programs. Premature reunification happens because no basic reunification protocol or through line exists in all 50 states. Celebrity actress Jen Lilley and Dr. John DeGarmo are working with legislators in Washington D.C. to bring reform to the Reunification process.
8. Therapy Many times, children placed into foster care suffer from mental health issues. Indeed, placement disruption may be so severe to the child that it feels as if their entire world is falling apart. Covid has only exasperated this, and triggered deeper issues of anxiety, as well. Issues from anxiety can manifest themselves in a number of ways. Perhaps the one that foster children face the most is separation anxiety, an excessive concern that children struggle with concerning the separation from their home, family, and to those they are attached to the most. Other anxiety disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder, where a child repeats unwanted thoughts, actions, and/or behavior out of a feeling of need. Panic disorders find a child experiencing intense bouts of fear for reasons that may not be apparent. Another anxiety disorder that foster children may face includes social phobias, or the fear of being embarrassed or face the criticism of others. Children in foster care, in many cases, do not receive adequate services in regard to mental health and developmental issues and will not likely do so in the near future, due to lack of government funding and lack of resources. Professional therapy and counseling is essential for the well being of the child.
9. Become a Foster Parent With roughly half a million children in the foster care system in the United States alone, the need is strong for good foster homes and foster parents. Indeed, the need has become even stronger during Covid, as many states face a lack of foster parents since Covid began affecting families. By becoming a foster family, you can provide stability, safety, and hope for a child in foster care. You can give love to a child who may never have been given it before. Not only will you change the life of a child, your life will change, as well.
10. Helping Those Who Age Out Each year, around 20,000 foster children age out of the system and attempt to begin life on their own. Of the 452,000 children in care in the United States each year, this is a large number and disturbing percentage. The statistics are grim for those who age out. One in four will end up incarcerated within two years of aging out. 65% will end up homeless. For many youth in foster care, foster care is a temporary service before returning home to a parent, moving in with a biological family member, or even beginning a new life in an adopted home. Yet, for thousands who do not find reunification with family in their lives, leaving the foster care system when they age out can be not on a time of anxiety, but a time of tragedy. To be sure, these challenges and difficulties have only been exasperated during Covid. In a national study of 281 transitioning foster youth conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, 55% reported being food insecure because of COVID-19, 48% said they were laid off or had their work hours severely cut, and 72% reported having no more than one month’s worth of expenses available. Here are 15 ways you can helpa youth who has aged out of foster care.
11. Kinship Care The placement of a child into a foster home is a distressing, harrowing, and life changing experience for a foster child, especially during Covid. For many, it is a frightening time, as the fear of the unknown can quickly overwhelm a child. Others are filled with anger, as they emotionally reject the idea of being separated from their family members. Feelings of guilt may also arise within the foster child. For all, it is a traumatic experiencethat will forever alter the lives of foster children. When possible, Kinship Care should be considered. Kinship foster care is an out-of-home arrangement for full-time care by relatives, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and sometimes even older siblings. Kinship care allows families to stay together, and studies indicate it helps improve mental health, stability, and behavior.
12. Co-Parenting The cycle of abuse and neglect is often a generational one. For many children in foster care, they come from a long cycle of family members placed in foster care before them. By showing compassion, by reaching out, and by helping birth parents of children in foster care, we not only help them we also help their children, as well. When a foster parent shares the nurturing of a foster child alongside the birth parents and caseworker, reunification tends to happen at a quicker and more successful rate. Co-Parenting sees the foster parent working alongside the biological parents of the child.
13. Child sex trafficking The Coronavirus, or Covid 19, is not only resulting in an increase in child abuse and neglect, there are also fears that the pandemic will also result in a future increase in child pornography and child sex trafficking.Commercial acts of sex being forced upon children as young as 10 years of age. Child sex trafficking is not only all around us, it is a business that is growing substantially, mainly due to the world of online technology. Some reports indicate that there are roughly 300,000 children in the United States, alone, are victims of child sex trafficking. What society does not recognize, though, is that many of these children come from the foster care world. More advocates are needed to bring an end to form of modern day slavery for children.
Like so many others, caseworkers are now working from home, and are unable to visit their foster parents, and many times not be able to provide the assistance and resources they need, including face to face interactions that may be necessary on occasion. Agencies need to ensure that their caseworkers are safe and not at risk. In addition, our caseworkers need to be given more time, more funding, more resources, and more understanding from the public, from the courts, and from foster parents during this time of Covid.
15. Faith Based Help Today’s faith based organizations have an opportunity to truly impact the foster care system in a positive way. Providing online support for foster parents is one way faith based groups can help. Hosting a local foster parent association and support group is one such way a faith based organization can serve foster parents. Another way is serving as a location for family visitations. Faith based groups can provide a safe, consistent, warm, and inviting atmosphere for children and birth family members to meet during visitation sessions. Not only will children in foster care benefit, but foster parents and birth parents of the children will also benefit.
Dr. John DeGarmo is an international expert in parenting and foster care and is a TEDx Talk presenter. He and his wife have had over 60 children come through their home. Dr. John is a consultant to legal firms and foster care agencies, as well as an empowerment and transformational speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system. He is the author of several books, includingThe Foster Care Survival Guide: The Essential Guide for Today’s Foster Parents,and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN HLN, Good Morning, America, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, and elsewhere. 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.