AIR Informs Episode #8: Supporting the Foster Care Community During COVID-19

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The foster care community is facing some unique challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. In the latest podcast episode, AIR early childhood expert and licensed foster mom Ann-Marie Faria discusses how COVID-19 has affected the foster care system and ways to address some of the challenges it faces.

Some of the challenges currently facing the foster community include:

  • The number of children entering the system has dropped significantly. There’s a large concern in the community that many children are at home in environments that may not be safe. Much of this is due to fewer interactions with pediatricians, coaches, and teachers. This also means there will most likely be a surge in placements once the pandemic is more controlled, which could overtax an already burdened system.
  • The children who are entering are the most severe cases of abuse and neglect. While the total number of child abuse cases is down, a higher percentage of children are dying from their abuse this year compared to last year.
  • In-person visits with birth families have stopped. The virtual visits are helpful in many ways, but they provide challenges to fostering and maintaining secure attachment between children and their birth families—especially for infants, toddlers, and non-verbal children.
  • Accessing needed services has become more difficult. Occupational therapy, psychotherapy, and other services that many foster children were receiving prior to the pandemic outbreak are now virtual as well. This places an extra burden on the foster parents to be nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists, and teachers while schools are closed.
  • Reunification plans are slowing or stalling. Birth families have also not had access to supports, such as drug testing, which can hamper progress on their reunification plans, even when they’re trying hard to reunify their family. Children are remaining in foster care longer now due to the pandemic.
  • New placements are even more challenging. Who should be tested and when that testing should take place are common questions, the answers to which some in the community are disagreeing about.

Steps currently being taken to address these issues, along with additional ideas, include:

  • Considering reducing caseloads. Reducing the number of families per each social worker would reduce the risk of exposure for that social worker, and also anyone throughout the system that they’re coming into contact with. However, this would not be an easy fix.
  • Ensuring safe in-person visits. First, ensure everyone involved has personal protective equipment for anyone participating in visits over the age of two: masks, face coverings, face shields, etc. Second, aim to conduct visits outside and, though it’s not always realistic, practice social distancing by remaining at least six feet apart. Third, a safety checklist could be a helpful tool to ensure safety for any in-person meetings.
  • Relying on data to help curb community spread. When communities or municipalities rely on data to make decisions about returning to virtual visits if there’s a surge in COVID-19 cases, it takes the pressure off individual directors and staff members to make those decisions.

For anyone considering becoming a foster parent during this pandemic, here are some things to think about:

  • Have a plan to mitigate the coronavirus risk to you and your family but know that you’ll need to be flexible.
  • Have a plan for supporting your child’s education if childcare and schools remain closed or partially closed.
  • Because of the nature of the process, getting a foster license is more difficult right now and could take longer than it would have in the past.

Here are some resources to help foster families and birth families: