The Coronavirus Impact on California Foster Care
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues, the foster care system is wrought with new complications and hurdles to overcome.
Teresa Stivers, CEO of Walden Family Services explained one of their challenges is ensuring the safety of their youth that are approaching 18 years of age.
AB12 is a law that allows 18 years old to extend their stay in foster care, but many may choose to live on their own. Programs such as the Walden Family Services gives them a helping hand by moving them into fully-furnished apartments, Stivers said.
“We see a lot of youth choose to live on their own at first because they want freedom. But, not many youths that age is successful on their own, so they often come back into a program like ours,” Stivers told Scriberr news.
Many young adults in the system struggle living in isolation during the lockdown orders.
“Imagine being a foster youth living on your own for the first time at 18 and being in an apartment all by yourself and not having a lot of friends or family, they’re not just physically isolated, but also socially and emotionally isolated from people,” Stivers said.
Another program experiencing a similar concern, Hillsides foster care agency, is working to ensure one of their adolescents will be “submitted before his 18th birthday” to ensure his support will continue.
“Our foster care social worker has already been in touch with the county worker,” division chief of foster care and adoption of Hillsides, Cindy Macias told Scriberr News. “He can stay where he’s at in the home and extended foster care during this time.”
Hillsides’ social workers are using waivers to help 18-year-olds who are not ready to move so they can extend their stay in foster care.
“It can be terrifying and unfortunate for kids during this epidemic,” Macias added.
Foster care students in college are displaced, child abuse underreported
Gianna Dahlia, executive director of Together We Rise, has witnessed many challenges for students in foster care. Many of these students have gone off to college and lived in dorms.
Since colleges across the country transitioned to online learning, many college students returned home, while students in foster care had nowhere to go.
Together We Rise received over 1,200 students inquiring about finding housing or help with some meal support, Dahlia said, with the most requests from Washington, Chicago, New York, and California.
“We’re working with these college-age students who have no housing or meals right now, and we are providing housing and grocery support. We’re providing educational resources, so they are aware of state and federal resources that are available to them,” Dahlia told Scriberr News.
Together We Rise partnered with several organizations to help assist college students. The organization anticipates about 10,000 college students in foster care will need additional assistance by the end of July.
Other challenges foster agencies face is the ability to check-in with their foster families.
The Walden Family Services currently works with social workers who do a combination of virtual check-ins, as well as in-person check-ins for the older kids, depending on their mental health challenges.
But due to the stay-at-home orders, it has made their jobs more difficult because they can’t enter homes anymore.
“Our social workers are working hard to ensure that they are checking in, you know, several times a week that they’re making sure that they have the technology that they need. That has probably been the biggest challenge because all the visits are happening virtually,” Macias said.
Some families lack the technology they need to communicate with their social workers. There is currently a need for donations at the Hillsides foster system.
Another issue arising is the decrease in child abuse reports, since social workers normally report from classrooms or daycare centers. With stay-at-home orders in place and businesses closed, that route has been eliminated.
“In the summer, when the kids are not in school, the calls to the child abuse hotlines go down because the people who usually make those calls are a school, doctors, offices, etc.,” Stivers said.
“So, again, those calls have dropped because the outside world is not seeing these kids, and we know that as soon as we reopen, kids will start going back to school and be seen by doctors–there’s going to be a huge influx.”
Together We Rise secured thousands of masks to distribute to social workers who are able to conduct in-person check-ins.
“A huge part of what keeps kids safe is social workers doing check-ins with their biological homes, or if they’re in foster care, foster placement, and making sure the placement is going accordingly, and the foster parent is taking care of them,” Dahlia said.
California responds to foster care challenges
California Gov. Newsom noticed the challenges foster care agencies and children are combating.
On April 13, California invested $42 million to protect vulnerable youth, $27.8 million to help families, $7 million to support county social workers, and foster family caregivers at higher risk of COVID-19.
Newsom signed an executive order on April 17, which read: “order will allow county child welfare agencies and probation departments to perform necessary functions using alternative processes other than face-to-face interactions. This includes allowance for a 60-day waiver to allow for flexibility in the emergency placement of foster youth and ensures that foster youth have access to critical programs and technology by verifying foster care status for foster youth and wards of the juvenile court whose cases are pending.”
Stivers added there’s “a disproportionality issue in this pandemic, and the people who are suffering the most are the marginalized.”
“Particularly our foster youth … there’s disproportionality in foster care, and people of color, the LGBTQ population, etc. And they’re the ones who are being impacted the most by this crisis,” Stivers said.