Aimee and Ralph Hubbert, of Akron, decided there was no perfect time to be foster care parents.
“We knew the clock was ticking,” Aimee Hubbert says.
It was 2017 and it was a big year for the couple. They were engaged and in the midst of preparing for their wedding in April. Shortly after their nuptials, they began training to become foster parents, and then were licensed.
In October of that same year, they received a foster placement: twin boys. It wasn’t a perfect time either, but that didn’t matter.
“We just had to strap in for the roller coaster ride,” Aimee Hubbert says.
The COVID-19 outbreak has been a challenging time for everyone and many are canceling their plans or projects. However, the one thing that doesn’t have to be put off is becoming a foster care parent.
“We are continuing to get interest from potential foster and adoptive parents online or via our recruitment phone line, and we’re following up on every inquiry because we still need loving homes for our children,” say Jacqueline Fletcher, caregiver resource management, and Bryan Stanton, foster/adoption recruitment supervisor, at Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services.
Many agencies also are providing virtual informational group meetings and training.
“We continue to offer the information meetings via Facebook both in the afternoons and evenings through the month of May,” says Ann Ream, department director of community relations and foster care for Summit County Children Services. “Virtual meetings and training opportunities will continue to be planned as a way to inform, train and support potential and/or current foster parents.”
The pandemic has necessitated adjustments, says Debora Gault, director of foster care at OhioGuidestone.
“Everything we do now has to be thought about differently, yet still in a very deliberate way,” Gault says. “There are so many children who continue to need what we have to offer — structure, limits, love — and we still need foster parents to provide this.”
Support for Foster Parents
Area agencies and foster care support groups have always been a source of help in foster family communities — but now most everything has to be done virtually.
“My workers have stayed in touch with their foster parents and kinship parents via phone, Skype, FaceTime, visits at their homes through a door or window and have told caregivers to let us know if they need anything,” says Amy Buresch, social service supervisor at Geauga County Job and Family Services. “The caregivers can always get ahold of the worker, supervisor or use our hotline. The emancipated youth have been taken care of by our independent living worker, and she has provided them with gift cards, food, etc.”
Those who in any other time would be leaving the foster system also are receiving temporary support from the state. Last month, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that the state will cover the costs to keep more than 200 youth who are aging out of foster care in the foster care system until the COVID-19 pandemic ends, according to a governor’s office press release.
“Youth that are aging out of the foster care system are the population that gets forgotten the most,” Gault says. “Providing them with continued support is so important as they, too, are navigating the uncertainty of this global health crisis.”
Many children in foster care still need their health needs met. Foster parents are finding virtual resources.
“Our foster parents are now using telemedicine through Akron Children’s Hospital that allows them to visit with a healthcare provider almost anytime,” Ream says. “Telemedicine does not replace traditional health care, but it does support it particularly during the pandemic.”
With this being a stressful time across the U.S., agencies are helping parents and children who are trying to cope the best way possible.
“As situations continue to evolve daily, we have been actively communicating with our caregivers and families by sharing various ways to cope with stress and/or behavioral changes they may be experiencing,” Fletcher and Stanton say. “The loss of human interactions and routine can be very taxing on all of us. It can be difficult for children to understand the changes happening in our world.”
“Foster parents are the reason children are safe and are so important in this community,” Ream says. “Children who are living in situations that are unsafe need to be protected. Many of these children experience traumatic life events that have long-term negative consequences for themselves and the community.”
Foster Care Needed
As the world continues to live in lockdown, or at least the time being where uncertainty is still fresh in our minds, nothing has changed dramatically for the foster care system. There are children in Northeast Ohio who still need help in finding a home — and for some agencies, the need is increasing.
“Since 2013, Summit County Children Services has seen a dramatic increase in the number of children in agency custody; hence the number of children needing temporary and forever homes continues to be a concern,” Ream says.
In Cuyahoga County, Fletcher and Stanton say they have seen a steady increase over the last two years.
Buresch says in Geauga County, there hasn’t been an increase in need for foster care, but foster parents are always needed.
The factors of why children are going into foster care haven’t changed. The agencies interviewed cited parental substance abuse as a main factor, but also mental health, housing instability and domestic abuse.
“For many families that were already struggling, add the additional stress and anxiety parents and children are feeling during the uncertainty of this pandemic, the current crisis may make it even more difficult to keep their family safe,” Fletcher and Stanton say. “While we haven’t currently seen an increase in the number of kids in care due to coronavirus, that may change as this situation persists. Working from home, trying to learn remotely, worrying about job loss, fear of exposure to the virus and many more pressures would stress any family. Imagine being a parent struggling to put food on the table, trying to maintain sobriety or mental health without the support you need to remain stable, or struggling to manage a child’s difficult behaviors at home. Our agency is monitoring this situation closely and is working with our families to support them through this unique and challenging time.”
Advice for Future Parents
Aimee Hubbert is the vice president of the Summit County Foster Parent Association, a non-profit organization. According to its website, it provides public advocacy for prevention of abuse and neglect of children, educates and supports foster families and helps champion a positive relationship with Summit County Children Services.
“Foster parents are vulnerable, compassionate and passionate about what we do,” Hubbert says.
She encourages future parents to ask questions.
“We have learned so much,” Hubbert says. “One of the biggest challenges was recognizing there are so many differences in parenting.”
She also says building relationships with biological parents is crucial.
“You can act like a role model for those parents,” she says. “That relationship (will also) be important (as kids) get older and ask about their biological family. It’s important for them to know relationships were established — we care about their biological family.”
Reuniting parents with their children is an understood goal for foster parents. However, in some cases, unfortunately, reunification doesn’t happen.
“Oftentimes, foster parents provide permanency for children in their homes whose parents do not achieve reunification,” Ream says. “By providing permanent connections for children through foster care and adoption, children are likely to achieve better outcomes.”
Hubbert tells parents they should get attached: “If not, you’re doing it wrong.”
“(It’s) not an easy thing to do, but in the end, it’s totally worth it,” she says. “You (can) change the entire trajectory of their life, whether providing them with safety or helping parents — you have a direct hand of what their life will look like.”