At any given moment, nearly half a million children are cycling through the foster care system. Some are awaiting adoption, others have been removed from their homes temporarily and others will remain in foster care until they age out. Now, a countless number of society's most vulnerable children, those navigating the foster care system, have been thrown in limbo due to the novel coronavirus.
Amid the pandemic, four major hindrances are disrupting the lives of children within the aforementioned system.
Inability to adopt/be adopted.
Adoption and fostering can be a lengthy process determined by background checks and home study for prospective caregivers with regulations that vary from state to state. To add to that timeline, child protective services are notoriously known for being both overwhelmed and bureaucratic.
COVID-19 has added to the uncertainty for children looking for a safe home and caregivers who have had their plans of fostering put on hold indefinitely, according to 47 ABC.
In Delaware, Children & Families First, a foster agency, trains, assess, licenses and supervises families. In the wake of the pandemic, screenings have become more complicated, and families who were about to be reunited now have to wait. The process of screening families has become a major issue.
“How do we get people background checked? How do we make sure people get in to see their doctors so that we can have a physical exam? So some of those things are in the process of being worked out,” said Laura Storck, a supervisor for Children & Families First.
No contact with biological family.
There’s not a blanket reason why children are removed from their homes and placed in substitute care. Substance abuse, domestic violence and mental illness are a few examples of conditions that would require rigorous services and rehabilitation for both parents and children to give them an opportunity to eventually be reunited, according to Child and Family Services Reviews. In these cases, it’s not uncommon for temporarily fostered children to see their biological siblings in other foster homes. With coronavirus cases skyrocketing in the U.S., states are split between allowing biological parent visits as required by law or suspending outside contact for children in foster homes. Court hearings that would’ve united families, months or years in the making, have now been removed from the docket, according to Youth Today.
Child abuse is on the rise.
While some children are stuck in the in-between of waiting to be reunited with their families and living in a foster home, even more are languishing away in abusive environments. Not only has evidence of child abuse increased, but there is a lack of infrastructure to support reported abuse cases during the pandemic, according to City Journal. In the span of one week, a Fort Worth, Texas, hospital reported six cases of severe child abuse, and all of the victims were younger than 6 years old, with one child succumbing to their fatal injuries. Doctors usually see that total in one month, Newsweek reported.
Teacher reports are a major way child abuse is discovered, according to City Journal. With traditional school being suspended indefinitely, many of these underage victims are isolated and left further exposed. For those who are able to report their maltreatment, child protective services intervention and associated investigations could be delayed more than usual. Further, there has been an increase in calls for help from victims of domestic violence as people are stuck inside with abusers, as Blavity previously reported.
Aging out of the system in a chaotic time.
Those who “age out” of the system are more vulnerable than ever. Those who have not been placed in permanent housing by 18 or 21 (age limits vary from state to state), can find themselves instantly homeless on their birthday. In Maryland, 27 foster children age out of the system each month, 47 ABC reported. The state has revised a policy to allow foster youth turning 21 during the pandemic to stay in the system until June, but youth advocates worry about thousands of youth being forced out into an abysmal job market.
According to a national poll of 172 current and former foster youth aged 18 – 24, over a quarter of participants said they had been laid off because of the pandemic. Additionally, 40% of those surveyed saw their work hours decreased, were forced to leave their homes, or were scared they would be forced to move, according to The Chronicle of Social Change.
Some states have begun to acknowledge the overlooked foster care crisis in the midst of the pandemic. This week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged $42 million to assist “vulnerable younger Californians." The investment will include an age extension for those who could age out of foster care and will extend funds to foster homes so that children will have a stable place to live.