We are living through some difficult and scary times. I hope you, your family, friends and colleagues are healthy and you are able to follow the safety guidelines that have been established by health authorities. Most of us have been staying home to assist in “flattening the curve.” The impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak are being felt across the world. With the chaos created by the pandemic, it is easy for vulnerable populations to fall into the cracks. As some of the nation’s most vulnerable youth, it is important the plight of foster youth is not forgotten. The crisis has the potential to have some very negative ramifications and devastating outcomes for the foster care community.
Although everyone is coping with a loss of socialization and a sense of uncertainty, it can be especially troublesome for foster youth who have aged out of the system. Transitioning to adulthood is not easy under the best circumstances and even harder for young people in tough places without family support or any type of safety net or support system to speak of. How can you stay home when you do not have a home to go to? Many who have exited foster care lack a stable family to rely on for advice, emergency housing, meals or financial aid. This crisis puts some in danger of homelessness, food insecurity and mental health deterioration. Fortunately, child protective systems are working to temporarily extend the age limit of foster care so foster homes can assist by providing some additional protection for this group of individuals.
Several of the support networks vulnerable youth and their families rely on are no longer accessible to them. Some of the shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 outbreak pose significant dangers. Social workers are growing concerned about the decrease in the amount of child abuse reports that are being submitted following school closures. Typically, the majority of these abuse and neglect reports are made by school staff. Schools serve as a safe place for lots of children and teenagers. Social isolation imposed by pandemic is leading to families spending a disproportionate amount of time together which can be hard even on a healthy family unit. With parents working from home while trying to homeschool their children, youth are being intensely isolated in close quarters with their family members during a very stressful time. Child protective service departments are worried about projected rises in domestic violence as well as child abuse and neglect during hunker-down and shelter-at-home orders.
The month of May is National Foster Care Month and is an opportunity to bring attention to the importance of foster parenting. Now perhaps more than ever, it is critical to shine a light on what is needed by foster youth and the foster care community. In this age of social distancing, foster care recruiters and workers – like some many others – are getting creative and utilizing technology to spread awareness, reach out to make connections, find new foster homes and train them. Placement agencies and currently licensed foster parents have stepped up in a major way to keep youth safe and even help them thrive despite the new challenges presented by COVID-19.
As the pandemic has forced so many things to be put on hold, the need for quality foster families remains and efforts to recruit them must resume. Organizations continue to actively look for good people to open their hearts and homes to youth from their community. If you are considering becoming a foster parent during this time, please keep thinking about whether it is the right fit for you. Now may be a good time to gather information and learn more about how to start the process. No youth should face the COVID-19 crisis without the love and support of a family. This is particularly true for foster youth that have already endured abuse or neglect.
Adam Akers serves as Director of Therapeutic Foster Care at Denali Family Services.
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