Over the past several weeks, we have watched the environment around us change rapidly, as our nation and world face a public health crisis greater than any we have encountered in our lifetimes. As we reflect on what is different and how we are called to respond, we know that children and families in or at risk of entering the child welfare system will be among those who experience COVID-19 and its ripple effects most intensely.
For the 437,000 children presently in foster care, the obstacles ahead are significant. The path to returning children to their homes or placing them with adoptive families has been slowed as family visits, service plans, and court proceedings are delayed. Foster children in group homes and institutions are at risk of experiencing COVID outbreaks. As children with previous experiences of trauma, foster youth must endure the additional trauma of a pandemic–without access to peers, teachers, and service providers, whom they had been counting on to help them heal.
For all children and families—as well as the broader child welfare sector—there are many challenges ahead: family instability as caregivers and kids fall ill to COVID, poverty and housing insecurity as joblessness increases, and isolation as communities follow social distancing requirements. With the disproportionate representation of African-American, Latinx, and Native American children and families in the child welfare system and early data suggesting similar racial disparities with COVID complications, there is a grave risk of deepening the racial inequities in experiences and outcomes already present in our child welfare system and in our broader society.
While we know the future brings uncertainty and challenges, we believe we can help. The types of leadership and innovation Foster America deploys to our sector will be critical as our nation adapts and responds to this crisis. The talents Foster America fellows utilize in their work—strategically tackling interdisciplinary problems, using data, applying the latest technology in new ways, and braiding funds across government silos—are some of the very skills child welfare organizations need most to quickly design and scale up innovative solutions.
Many of our current fellows and fellowship alumni are already helping their agencies respond to the crisis. They are standing up emergency shelters, tracking down protective equipment for frontline workers, and equipping colleagues with the technology they need to continue to help children and families while operating remotely. We are supporting their efforts and helping them exchange strategies and tools with each other to quickly scale what is working.
In the coming months, we plan to send additional fellows to the field to help child welfare agencies respond to immediate needs and do so in a way that allows them to serve children and families better in the long run. This means helping their agencies build systems that are more prevention-oriented, particularly at a time when many additional families are suffering as a result of the economic and health consequences of COVID. It also means helping their agencies close down residential institutions, where foster children experience the worst long-term outcomes, and where they are now are at the same risk of COVID outbreaks as prisoners.
We are grateful to our dedicated network of fellows, alumni, agency partners, staff, funders, and board member—who have shown up with love and support for each other and the children and families they serve during this time of crisis and uncertainty.
Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing more details about our response to COVID-19. For more information, see: