During National Foster Care Month and beyond, if I could say thank you to every foster family, child welfare professional, judge and volunteer who dedicates their life to over 437,000 children and youth in the foster care system, I would. And, even then, it would insufficiently cover the depth of gratitude due them for their unwavering dedication, selflessness and countless sacrifices day in and day out—to support children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
It’s no secret that children and youth who have experienced abuse or neglect are among the most vulnerable populations in America. A child in foster care may have faced physical, psychological and/or emotional trauma only to face long periods of uncertainty.
With COVID-19, the foster care system is facing an even broader series of challenges including, visitation—with parents, siblings, social workers, CASA/GAL volunteers and others, reunification struggles due to social distancing, permanency delays because of closed courts, children falling behind in school without access to technology and educational resources, fewer foster families because of economic uncertainties and, emotional stress, anxiety and unemployment—which together creates a fragile, unstable system. And, if history is any guide, domestic violence and child abuse worsen during disasters. Is there hope for the foster care system, especially during this season of isolation? Absolutely. Here’s why:
- Resilience. Many children in the foster care system demonstrate incredible resilience, adaptability and flexibility throughout their life journey. This pandemic has presented challenges to adults that children face as a normal course of life. Those of us who serve, support and encourage children have an opportunity to show them that same ingenuity, flexibility and resilience.
- Creativity. Social workers, teachers, principals, day care workers, court systems, judges, volunteers and other service providers are using a broad range of creative strategies to continue to meet with children—using technology, dropping off packages, saying hello at a distance and, overall seeking to stay in touch. We salute their hyper-vigilant focus on keeping children safe, close and encouraged.
- Foster parents are incredible. Foster parents provide a safe and comfortable family environment. They are heroes from all walks of life who provide physical and emotional needs, food and clothing–just as they would for their own child. They make sure the child attends school, take them to the doctor when needed, provide access to recreational activities, guide them through the transition process, coordinate family visitation, prepare for reunification, and so much more. Their unending dedication warms my heart and encourages us all to continue the much-needed work.
- Timing is everything. If you or anyone you know has ever considered foster parenting, now is the time. If you’re trying to fit in where you’re most needed, being a foster parent is a great way to support a system and a society that desperately needs a safe, caring environment for children.
- Every day, CASA/GAL volunteers advocate. According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, “The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a parent, caregiver, or other adult.” CASA and GAL volunteers are often that person for a child in the foster care system. In fact, over 93,300 volunteers make sure America’s most vulnerable children and youth do not face trauma, confusion and the complexities of the courtroom alone. At this critical moment, our volunteers are needed now more than ever. For more information, about becoming a CASA volunteer, go to: https://nationalcasagal.org/advocate-for-children/be-a-casa-volunteer/.
While there is plenty to be concerned about—family isolation, anxiety and stress, economic uncertainty, unstable home situations and a potential sharp increase in cases of child abuse or neglect, I have genuine hope. That’s because many, many people who serve children are equally as concerned as I am—and they have consequently stayed in touch with children as much as possible—while looking ahead to address the issues that have been exposed as a result of this pandemic.
Let’s all work together to support foster parents, child welfare professionals, CASA and GAL volunteers and many others who are working now and in the future to meet the needs of children who have experienced abuse or neglect. Let’s show these children they are not alone. For more information about foster care, go to: https://www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth/.
With Much Gratitude,
CEO, National CASA/GAL Association for Children