The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed many lives and daily routines. For foster care and adoption care agencies, there has been an adjustment to the challenges, but there also is still a need to serve families in the community.
“The biggest hurdles that our foster/adoptive caregivers have to overcome is twofold,” says Gene Tetrick, supervisor, substitute care unit at Lake County Department of Job and Family Services. “Oftentimes, our caregivers accept placement of children with a lot of unknowns to their history, and being exposed to COVID-19 was another unknown that they considered when accepting placement in their home. The other hurdle is getting children entering into custody tested for the virus. Despite this, the foster and adoptive caregivers in Lake County have been willing to bring children into their home when they need a safe place.”
The pandemic has affected how many children are entering the system, with some agencies like Cuyahoga County and Summit County decreasing slightly at first, but their numbers are moving back up. Lake County has seen an increase in children over the past year.
“At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, when children were suddenly not in school, we saw a significant drop in referrals to our hotline,” says Beverly Torres, senior manager of permanency support, Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services. “However, those numbers are returning to normal.”
With the kids entering the system and children still needing placement, the cancellations of in-person events have taken a toll on agencies.
“Most, if not all, activities including recruitment and adoption mixers have been canceled or could not move forward,” says Ann Ream, department director of community relations and foster care for Summit County Children Services. “The face-to-face activities have ceased due to safety concerns, which has made ongoing engagement and recruitment a bit more challenging in some respects.”
Some children and families who were hoping to be in court to sign adoption papers weren’t able to attend in person. While adoptions are still taking place, many are being held virtually, or if they are at the courthouse, there are a limited number of family members who can attend the hearing.
“Families have to come up with creative ways to celebrate their adoption day and make the most of their special occasion in providing a permanent, forever family to children in need,” Ream says.
However, technology also has offered virtual opportunities for prospective adoptive parents to get started with the process. This scenario has provided some unexpected benefits for families.
“The process for training has been quicker due to offering virtual options,” Ream says. “By using technology, we are still able to provide quality services in the best interest of the child, while continuing to offer support, including virtual options, which in many cases has been a time saver.”
The main issue is safety and exposure to the virus, which agencies have been addressing to keep families safe, along with helping their current foster parents with different supports.
“We looked at flexibility and doing Zoom visits where possible with our caregivers or meeting outside with them to ensure social distancing to keep them safe,” Tetrick says. “We also simplified visits where we could to limit the children’s and our caregiver’s exposure to multiple people to increase their safety. The social workers for the foster/adoptive caregivers also provided more supports over the phone and checked in more often to see how our caregivers were doing and to process out any concerns they might be having.”
The agencies advise families who are interested in foster care/adoption to continue with the process because there are many virtual platforms to help and follow the health guidelines.
“Families in general are struggling with managing jobs, virtual school, closed daycares and keeping kids busy,” Torres adds. “But, resiliency has been the key to moving forward with finalizing adoptions.”