Paid, professional mentors support youth as in-person visits with loved ones—and court hearings—come to an abrupt halt
May 5, 2020 (PORTLAND, ORE.) – As communities across the country recognize May as National Foster Care Month, Friends of the Children, a national organization that pairs children in foster care with a paid, professional mentor for 12+ years, is calling attention to the circumstances in which the more than 437,000 children in foster care nationwide find themselves as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Consistency of relationship and a regular schedule has been shown to mitigate stress and trauma," says Terri Sorensen, CEO of Friends of the Children. “This is something our Friends are especially committed to during this difficult time. As we come to grips with the new reality we’re living in due to coronavirus, we need to keep the experiences of youth in foster care in our hearts and minds.”
As most people are staying home with loved ones, a lot of children in foster care are living with non-relatives and are no longer able to visit their biological parents or siblings in person. A February 2020 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children, Youth and Families showed that family visits between children and their parents and siblings are critical to the family reunification process. With court closures around the country, child welfare reunification cases are coming to an abrupt halt, leaving many families in limbo.
Organizations like Friends of the Children and National CASA/GAL Association for Children are committed to staying vigilant for children in foster care.
“I am deeply grateful for the 93,300 CASA volunteers, social workers, judges, teachers, principals, daycare workers and countless organizations that work hard every day to support children and families affected by abuse or neglect. They are calling, texting, using technology to teach and tutor, delivering packages and doing all they can to stay in touch with children,” said Tara Perry, CEO, National CASA/GAL Association for Children. “During this season of social distancing, I urge us all to follow CDC guidelines and be physically distant but remain socially close—especially to children who have been or are at risk of being abused or neglected. Let’s keep a watchful eye on children.”
In early April, a youth enrolled in Friends of the Children’s program was placed in foster care. His Friend jumped into action within hours and has been consistently checking in on the youth. The youth’s foster mom remarked how scared and quiet the child had been, “When his Friend connected with him, he became a whole new child,” she says.
In response to widespread “Stay at Home” orders across the country, Friends have creatively reimagined the program service model to keep their ‘no matter what’ commitment to supporting youth. Friends are dropping off supplies and activities, connecting parents to resources and information, reading books or doing math over the phone, and connecting through FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp and other technology platforms.
“More than 40 percent of youth in Friends of the Children have experienced foster care,” says Carmi Brown, chief program officer for Friends of the Children. “By definition, youth in foster care have experienced things that many of us prefer not to think about. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened those experiences and caused even more disruption in their lives.”
Another child in the program, who had been in and out of foster care with his siblings since 2014 was in the process of being adopted by his caregiver. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the adoption process is now placed on hold,” said the Friend. “I told him I would still be with him no matter what. I have been talking with him through Marco Polo, texting and phone calls, reassuring him that we would work this out when the courts are open.”
Across Friends of the Children’s 22 locations, widespread reports from Friends serving youth are that food insecurity and being able to pay rent are the biggest issues families are facing as the pandemic continues.
Parents and caregivers are also seeking a lot more support in helping with distance learning and enrichment activities. The digital divide in America, both in access to high-speed internet as well as digital devices, is impacting families across the country who are struggling to stay connected to loved ones, while being expected to participate in online learning.
The organization anticipates that the already stressed child welfare system will see more cases of neglect and abuse from the fallout of COVID-19. Friends serve as a critical protective factor for both parents and youth in the program.