Every child in our state deserves to be loved and to feel safe, especially during a crisis. As we come to grips with the new reality we’re living in due to COVID-19, we need to keep the experiences of youth in foster care in our hearts and minds. They are some of the most resilient among us.
By definition, youth in foster care have experienced things that many of us prefer not to think about. Those experiences alone will have long-lasting, negative effects. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened those experiences and caused even more disruption in their lives.
Connection and belonging are critical components of the human experience, especially in times of crisis. Research has consistently shown that the presence of a consistent, caring adult in a child’s life helps children deal more effectively with stressful events and lessen the impact of trauma.
As most of us are staying home with our loved ones, a lot of children in foster care are living with non-relatives, they are no longer able to visit their parents or siblings in person, and their court cases are coming to an abrupt halt due to court closures. Family visits between children and their families in foster care are critical, particularly in a time of crisis.
As child welfare caseworkers now have limited access to youth who need support the most, it is more important than ever that youth in foster care stay connected to other caring adults. This includes family members, teachers, mental health professionals, mentors, Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), attorneys — everyone in their circle of love and support who has lost their ability to connect in person.
Across the nation, about 40 percent of youth in Friends of the Children have been impacted by foster care. Consistency of relationship and a regular schedule has been shown to mitigate stress and trauma. This is something our Friends — paid, professional mentors — are especially committed to during this difficult time. After all, each child we serve has a Friend in their life for 12 plus years, no matter what.
We know that caseworkers in our child welfare system are doing everything they can to ensure children are safe. They, too, have families and loved ones that they are caring for right now. They are also having to change the way they do their jobs, both the format and frequency of child safety visits and make harder choices about when to intervene.
Friends have creatively reimagined our program service model to keep our "no matter what" commitment, while also practicing social distancing. They are staying connected to all of our youth by dropping off supplies and activities, connecting parents to resources and information, reading books or doing math over the phone, and connecting through FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp and other technology platforms.
The digital divide in America still persists, however. It is critical from an equity lens that we ensure youth in foster care have access to their own digital devices, as well as internet service and technologies that will support them in continued learning.
With the support of a caring adult, youth in foster can — and do — overcome adversity, even in a public health and economic crisis that has brought so much uncertainty and fear. Youth in Friends of the Children go on to become health care providers, college graduates, teachers, civil servants, advocates, and parents.
During these uncertain and challenging times, let’s all commit to finding ways to support youth in foster care. Let’s consider not just what they’ve been through, but the potential of what they can become. Central Oregonians take pride in our commitment to resilient and thriving communities. Let’s show our youth in foster care just what that means.