DETROIT – When they need help the most, foster children could soon end up becoming an unintended victim of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Foster care services across Michigan are facing major obstacles in helping ensure children are safe during the COVID-19 crisis.
Experts said communities were struggling to find foster parents before the pandemic, but now there are many new challenges. How do social workers get into homes? How do families have visitation? How do you nagivate the court system?
The world of fostering children is rapidly changing.
“If you wanted to become a foster parent, the time is now,” said Kristyn Peck, of West Michigan Partnership For Children.
Protecting vulnerable children is more important now than ever, as studies show domestic violence and child abuse increase during crises.
“Whether it’s economic, housing, food insecurities -- these are all complexities our families are facing, and therefore, our children,” said Janet Reynolds Snyder, of the Michigan Federation for Children and Families.
Samiritas, the largest provider of foster care services in Michigan, held a town hall meeting Tuesday to talk about how the coronavirus has affected outreach under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders.
“The pain from children who longed to see their parents and don’t understand the gravity and the magnitude of COVID-19 has really been a real challenge,” said JooYeun Chang, the senior deputy director of the Children’s Services Agency with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“We had to cancel two large events, and it takes many times for a foster parent to interact with a recruiter before they decide to sign up,” Peck said.
Workers are going online to recruit and connect with families virtually. The pandemic means foster parents are with children around the clock.
“Now you’re home schooling, you’re education, you are, as a foster family, facilitating those visits between children and their biological family,” Reynolds Snyder said.
Foster parent Erin Schneider is caring for 1- and 2-year-old children. She said little things go a long way.
“If people out there want to support foster families, milk and bananas are a big thing that you can really do to help so that we only go to the store as much,” Schneider said.
In a world in which nobody is supposed to leave their homes, taking in a child has a new meaning.
“We have to ask ourselves, though, is there hope for the foster care system, especially during this season of isolation?” asked Brenda Baker-Mbacke, of CASA For CARE House of Oakland County. “I say yes. There is hope.”