Foster Families Needed as Restrictions Lift

After a brief spike, reporting of child abuse dropped 23% during early pandemic months. Silence raises concern for child and youth workers.

“We remain in a state of urgent need,” Melanie McLearon of Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexion, an Ontario child welfare agency, told Christian Courier in an interview. “We desperately require new families to care for children.”

“While most children in the country are dealing with the frustrations of missing their friends, a hiatus in sports seasons and closed playgrounds, others worry about the very real possibility of homelessness, abuse or neglect,” writes Chris Palusky in Christianity Today. An influx of children in some form of foster or extended family/kinship care is anticipated as the COVID-19 lockdown measures start to ease up. 

“Like any worldwide crisis or natural disaster,” Palusky says, “the pandemic has amplified the vulnerability of the already vulnerable and will disproportionately impact them.” Without regular points of contact with other adults through schools and extracurricular activities, child and family service providers across North America have noticed a decline in referrals in recent months. 

“Under stay-at-home orders,” John Moore writes in Focus on the Family, “these [vulnerable] children suffer silently, hidden out of sight, alone and completely unprotected.” 

Helping professionals ask public to keep eyes open

With many regular activities cancelled, typical safe havens and points of contact for children are unavailable. That’s why family service providers are asking citizens to keep watch for any signs of concern regarding the wellbeing of nearby children and to report those concerns. 

According to Dr. Nita Jain from B.C.’s Children’s Hospital, reports of child abuse during the lockdown period “from late March to early May was down 23 percent, compared to the same time last year.” 

Dr. Michelle Ward, head of the child and youth protection division at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, states there is increased stress at home due to financial strain and full-time childcare: “At the very beginning of this we saw a little bit of a spike in child abuse cases and, since then, it’s really gone quiet. And that’s what’s so concerning to all of us. The police, the child welfare workers and the medical people that work in this field.” 

Creative responses

“COVID-19 has impacted children, biological families, foster families, adoptive families, the court system, support services, agencies – virtually every area of the child welfare system has been affected,” Moore says. Adaptations to services have been extensive: from personal protective equipment when in-home services are required to virtual check-ins to biological families connecting with their children in care with zoom game nights; these are all unique ways agencies “are being challenged to deliver their services while social distancing is required,” the Globe and Mail reports. Loss of in-person connection is felt deeply for children-in-care, biological families working towards healing relationships, and workers attempting to connect through awkward, though necessary, distanced means. In her interview with CC, McLearon states, “We do need to recognize that engagement with our families is best done in person . . . and the needs of our children, youth, [and] families is our highest priority.” 

Dr. Sharen Ford, the Director for Foster Care and Adoption at Focus on the Family in the U.S., told CC that, “Child welfare systems and agencies have retooled their systems to maximize virtual platforms to recruit and train prospective foster families.” Virtual training, virtual home showings for the purposes of home assessments, and digital submission of paperwork are all creative ways to continue foster family recruitment. Likewise, the Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexion says, “We have our application form available on our website and have hosted our monthly information sessions in a web-based video format. Staff are available by phone and video platforms to answer questions and conduct home studies and training.”

How then shall we respond?

“During Jesus’ ministry,” Citizens for Public Justice reflects, “he exposed errors, inequities, hypocrisy and faulty foundations. He embodied a shift in perspective and practice that centred love for God and neighbour. Our fault lines, too, have been exposed and exacerbated by COVID-19. We are seeing the effects of years of neglect and underfunding, of prejudice and the privilege of turning a blind eye. The existing status quo left those seeking safety, shelter and support all the more vulnerable. . . As always, Christ invites us to a better way. . . We need to think critically and creatively about what comes next. Together, we can build systems and relationships of love, respect, and justice.”

Dr. Ford commented to CC that a “better way” post-COVID 19 would include “governments willing to work with the local church in its desire to serve the vulnerable. As a community, the church is equipped with an army of caring people that when mobilized can make a difference through their volunteer efforts.” Other improvements to the child welfare system, according to Ford, would include an increase of volunteers in the court system as “Child Appointed Special Advocates (CASA Volunteers)” and at “visitation centers so parents can have visits with their children.” Churches hosting training sessions for families interested in fostering or adoption, with childcare provided, is another way that collaboration can take place. 

“A global pandemic doesn’t change God’s word,” Moore says, “nor does it change his call on his Church to love and care for vulnerable children. Please, prayerfully consider becoming a foster or adoptive family. Please consider supporting a foster or adoptive family in your church or becoming involved in some other way.” 

How can individuals support fostering families right now? “If you know a foster family, reach out to them with a basket of goodies – toys, child/youth friendly snacks, a gift card to a local restaurant . . . a card filled with a word of encouragement,” suggests Dr. Ford to CC. Individuals can also connect with a local agency and see if it may be taking donations at this time. 

To families considering opening their homes, McLearon tells CC that “Resource families are as unique and diverse as the children who need them. Love of young people, optimism, tolerance, patience and consistency are some of the essentials to being a successful resource family.” 

“During these challenging times and beyond, we need foster and adoptive homes that will provide children and youth with a safe place to stay and to remain connected to their families or loved ones and community whenever possible. Without adequate local homes, children and youth who must come into care may have to live hours away from their families and home communities, adding to their sense of loss and grief, and making it even more difficult for their families and the agency to support them.”

“During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,” Cameron Bellm writes in his Prayer for a Pandemic, “let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbours.”


One Comment

  1. Hello there and God bless,
    Looking for direction on ‘Christian/faith based’ fostering agencies. Have available space for up to 8 kids 0-18, fully furnished home in a family community, close to churches and walking distance to schools. Looking to quickly assist families in transition by keeping siblings together.

    Looking to protect kids while their families get back on their feet.

    If there is a list of faith based fostering agencies you can forward (to ensure we’re available to as many as possible).

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