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What it's like being in foster care under coronavirus isolation

The coronavirus pandemic has roiled the foster care system, isolating children from services and parents. A local foster family is stepping up in bold ways.

LANCASTER, Pa. — At the Rock household, there have been more pancake breakfasts and scavenger hunts lately. There has also been added responsibility as the Lancaster couple takes on a more active role in the therapy services their foster child receives. The Rocks never expected to be foster parents during a global pandemic.

“It’s been a learning curve, as is, before the pandemic started. And even more so now,” said Nick Rock.

Nick and Katelin Rock took in their first foster child in November. They are doing their best to keep life “normal” for the young child, but the ongoing crisis has limited their support to emails and calls.

“All the services that our child was receiving are now happening from the home,” said Katelin. “Things like occupational therapy and speech. We have the professional and the therapist on the other side of the computer screen, but we’re the ones doing the hands-on. The one-on-one redirection.”    

The coronavirus pandemic has roiled the foster care system. Schools and programs that help children with special needs or histories of trauma are closed.

According to the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS):

•The number of children in foster care decreased to approximately 437,000 at the end of fiscal year 2018 from 441,000 at the end of fiscal year 2017. Due to the coronavirus, child advocates expect the numbers to grow again for fiscal year 2020.

•The number of children entering foster care dropped to 263,000 compared to 270,000 in fiscal year 2017.

•The number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care increased to 125,400 in fiscal year 2017 compared to 123,400 in fiscal year 2017.

•More than 94,000 children were removed from their home in fiscal year 2018 because at least one parent had a drug abuse issue.

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Child advocates fear the pandemic will increase child abuse among those not yet accounted for in the system. The ongoing crisis is isolating children from services and their biological parents. Family visits disappeared overnight.

“Most of the kids who leave foster care are either reunified with their parents or they move towards adoption, but since the courts are closed, we can’t finalize any cases,” explained Mark Unger, Regional Director at the Lancaster Branch of Bethany Christian Services. “Kids are needing to stay in foster care longer because of that. So that’s another factor that were dealing with.”

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The foster care system relies on human connection. Foster parents, like the Rocks, are stepping up in bold ways to take advantage of these bonding experiences

“It’s just kind of about sharing some of what we have with the child. Sometimes they come into foster care not having a lot of experiences,” said Nick.

The Rocks said teamwork powers them through the daily challenges caused by the threat of COVID-19—reminding them why they wanted to become foster parents in the first place.

Katelin explained, “If this child would move out and we would never hear from him again, we would know that we made a difference at a time. We laid the foundation of skills that will hopefully carry on.”

Respite care providers are particularly needed. Respite care gives foster parents and children a short time apart to rejuvenate and recharge. Some agencies, like Bethany Christian Services, have moved their licensing and training sessions online during the coronavirus outbreak. If you are interested in foster or respite care, click here.

The community can also help children and foster parents by delivering meals, providing transportation, and making donations through local foster care agencies.