May is National Foster Care Month. The purpose of this awareness month is to help everyone to identify the need to recognize the unique challenges of children in foster care (either in a residential setting or in a home setting) and identify concrete measures we can take to be helpful.
Although the needs of children in foster care are intense and unrelenting in the course of any year, the element of COVID-19 has introduced additional unstable variables. COVID-19 amplifies many of the pre-existing challenges which create the need for foster care in the first place. In sum, the purpose of National Foster Care Month is to underscore the fact that a child welfare system can and should prioritize temporary foster care as a service to families – even while family reunification remains the long-term goal in situations where this is possible.
Give InKind spoke to Richmond Arce, Senior Manager of Events and Public Relations for Astor Services for Children and Families. The mission of Astor is to provide behavioral health and education services offering the children the opportunity to meet life’s challenges, pursue their dreams, and reach their full potential. Astor serves a range of children from acute in-patient residential treatment programs, to head start academic support and other therapeutic offerings for a broad swath of New York State.
The impact of COVID-19 on the foster care system has been significant:
Home Visits: Consideration of the placement of children reverberates where access to services normally accessible are less available. Home visits are, necessarily, restricted as telemedicine is swapped in to deal in an acute situation, but limitations of the digital platform are clear and placement has sometimes been more difficult.
Pre-Existing Conditions: Families otherwise able to take in a foster child, may be limited in this setting if they have less capacity to get in-home acute care and/or may need to consider any pre-existing medical condition they or someone in their home manage.
Identity: It’s also important to note that a central challenge of the pandemic has asked people to come to terms with their identity — “Where do I come from?" The macro message of COVID-19 has framed a response that may be misunderstood by at-risk youth, or traumatized children. Well, even that is not strictly true — children don’t understand systematic messages — but they do understand the shrapnel.
Said Richmond Arce, “The [larger national call-to-action] to take care of your own excludes those children already lacking a sense of to whom they belong. What happens to the children who don’t belong to a family unit in that way during this time? This message that says take care of your own is inadvertently nullifying to children who tend to be forgotten even in normal times."
Staff: Residential staff is stretched thin trying to manage acute situations. By all means, go right ahead and organize a frontline meal-drive for those people who work at residential treatment centers – doing work that is not always appreciated as it should be.
What Can You Do? As the pandemic gradually recedes — and it will — we will be left to consider the ways we extended ourselves.
Arce encourages people in communities to reach out to local organizations that provide residential services to foster care kids and see how they can be useful. For example, a local toy store recently donated some toys to Astor.
But if people are not in a position to contribute money or toys, postcards or letters are deeply meaningful. I am putting together a postcard campaign with some friends now. Our kids are going to send notes to kids at Astor. It’s a small thing, but it’s the small things really that stick. And that is the comforting truth.
It’s always nice to be seen. In no macro setting is that enough, but children don’t know what that is. They interpret through a kid-lens in which things can be scaled only as much as they can bear. It’s often enough to be seen. We see you.
“To those who give up on love, I say trust life a little bit." – Maya Angelou
This the thirteenth in a series of articles to provide guidance as to navigating situations we continue to navigate during the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic. We recognize that life continues in all aspects, even the pandemic impacts all of us in profound ways. We are on your team now as well as post-pandemic – and beyond. We invite you to visit our library of situationally specific articles here.
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