On Thursday, May 28, 2020, the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth hosted a briefing on COVID-19 and its impact on child welfare to explore the effects of the pandemic on these vulnerable young people and their families. The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-sweeping impacts on all Americans, and the impacts on children and families in the child welfare system are particularly acute.
Panelists included JooYeun Chang from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Heather Forkey from American Academy of Pediatrics, Barbara Johnson-Williams, an Oklahoma Kinship Caregiver, Marissa Sanders from West Virginia Foster, Adoptive & Kinship Parents Network, Aliyah Zeien, a former foster youth, and Louisiana’s Independent Living Programs Staff, and moderated by Tony Parsons from Youth Villages.
In Michigan, Chang shared how a child protection service worker tested positive and passed away within days and described COVID-19 impact on the work for the children services agency, including 1—keeping children safe and prevention, 2. Permanency, 3. Well-being and (re) opening, and 4. the impact on the workforce. The key question for the agency was, “how do we continue to ensure children are safe?” Referring to the data calls to the hotline drop from the first day of the executive order and stay-at-home with a forty percent drop in hotline calls.
Dr. Forkey shared stories where pediatricians continued to see children despite COVID-19 and shelter-in-place and how domestic violence reports have increased and how children, too, suffered abuse in the home. She remarked that in the United States, domestic violence has increased compared to other countries. In regards to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), Dr. Forkey stated that for the first time, everyone could understand the consequences as COVID-19 is an example of an unpreventable effect.
In Michigan, they instituted Family Support Outreach Efforts, where staff called 13,000 families with a set of questions and connected them to resources to mitigate the risk. Staff was able to call about sixty percent of families in thirty days. Due to the closure of the courts, Michigan children’s services reviewed 250 children cases to assess safety and reunification by providing targeted resources for children and families. Within thirty days, half of the children went home.
As a grandmother, Ms. Johnson shared how taking care of her three grandchildren, who are autistic, has been very difficult for her. She shared the struggles of many families in Oklahoma who do not have grocery stores near them and how pantries have run out of food and how families do not have access to the internet or technology to help kids with their learning. Also, for caregivers who are non-essential, some have lost their jobs; for those who are essential, child care is a challenge, and for many retirees, they have limited resources because of their fixed income.
Dr. Forkey emphasized that parents, especially foster parents, are heroes in this pandemic. As a former foster parent and now adoptive parent, Sanders shared that contrary to the notion that foster parents are not fostering during the pandemic, West Virginia foster parents recruitment has increased. This is likely due to online training opportunities. Sanders discussed the hurdles that foster parents have faced during the pandemic, including having access to broadband, especially in rural areas, especially in terms of equipment or technology. Finally, the rising cost of food and other expenses is a financial burden for parents. Recommendations from the panelist included providing resources for kinship navigators to support caregivers and peer support for foster parents. According to the FosterClub survey, 4 out of 5 young people transitioning from foster youth have requested assistance from the state Independent Living Program. Zeien shared how she has struggled with anxiety, and her peers have struggled with paying bills and food insecurity. She emphasized the need for more federal emergency relief aid.