How Did Covid Impact The US Foster Care System

US Foster Care Systems Struggle To Met Needs of Kids Due to COVID-19.

What is Easterseals?

Easterseals is a program that specializes in therapeutic foster care, which is a Medicaid billable service and requires additional training than your traditional foster care requirements.  The foster kids in this program have been in the foster care system for some time. They have experienced various traumas including physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, neglect, homelessness, unsafe environments, parental substance abuse, and witnessing domestic violence. The children served are mostly school-age children who have behavioral and emotional challenges.

Foster Care

What did foster parents do pre-covid?

Before COVID-19, foster parents utilized various daycares, after-school programs, day treatments, therapies, and other resources to assist with childcare needs as well as therapeutic supports for their foster kids. Almost all of the therapeutic foster parents work full-time jobs and depend on the school and after-school/daycare settings to assist while they are at work, like many families.

Then, Covid happened.

When schools closed, and other daycare/after-school programs shut down, this added stress to the foster parents and kids as they were stuck in the house together 24/7 without the social outlets they were accustomed to having. In addition, Easterseals asked that the staff stop seeing families face to face unless it was necessary. Therapists also went from visiting the homes to zoom sessions with the kids. Homebound all day with your child is often stressful enough, but try to imagine with a foster child who has the added behavioral and emotional challenges.

What struggles did therapists incur during Covid with foster care?

The team had to adjust from visiting homes weekly and transporting kids to appointments and meetings to doing everything by zoom. Therapists struggled with engagement because kids were too tired at the end of the day from looking at computer screens, and they often did not want to do therapy. Many foster kids have visitation with their biological parents if they are working with the courts on getting their parental rights back. COVID also affected visitation for kids, and court cases were pushed back, causing delays in reunification efforts.

Foster parents were working from home, trying to navigate virtual school, and in some cases, afraid to send their foster kids to respite (away for a weekend to another foster home to get a break) for fear of exposure to COVID.  

What happened during covid with the need for foster care?

Due to the COVID crisis, more referrals of kids have come into care for the first time. It is unclear if this is due to the COVID crisis, but the theory is that children who were already at risk of abuse or neglect were even more so due to parents losing jobs or being at home together more often, creating more stress. There have been struggles to place these referrals because the beds are full or foster parents are burnt out and/or fearful of taking a child into their home to risk exposure. Some of this has started to turn around with schools opening back, but there is still an increased number of referrals.

The most significant need is for more foster parents. There is not the capacity to place all the kids that need placing. Some Department of Social Services (DSS) agencies are resorting to kids sleeping on cots at the DSS office until they can find a bed available.  The fantastic team of professionals working to help these kids are limited in what they can do when there are just not enough homes to support them.

About the Author: Julie Bruce is the program manager with Easterseals UCP for the child placement (foster care) program for the Triangle area of NC. Easterseals is a non-profit mental health and developmental disabilities agency that provides many services across the state.  Julie has been working with the foster care program for about nine years and has been with Easterseals for nearly 11 years after working with another foster agency.

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