According to Mecklenburg Youth and Family Services officials, there are about 600 children in foster care in the county, 11,000 in North Carolina. Stability is important for these children but the coronavirus epidemic has brought changes for many of them.
Visitations with their birth parents have been suspended and permanent placements are being delayed. Kim Ford is the foster care supervisor for Bethany Christian Services which provides adoption and foster care services. She and others predict that more children will have a need for foster care as parents struggle to cope with lost jobs and stress because of COVID-19.
Kim Ford: The number is expected to grow as the stress level rises for families that are trying to stay intact. And so we're going to see more children coming into care, especially with mental health issues, job situations, unemployment. So that is definitely a need that we're going to see spiking.
Gwendolyn Glenn: Now, you mentioned that you're expecting the number to grow and stress is one reason. Can you give me some specific other reasons why you think this number will get larger because of this pandemic?
Ford: Sure. Definitely. So a lot of our families that are already fragile -- an increase in stress and mental illness can result in substance abuse that can result in child neglect. Both of those are factors that increase foster care. And stress really is a trigger for abuse or neglect or turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Glenn: And with these things you're talking about families giving up children, not children in foster care who are being given back?
Ford: Correct. I'm talking about children coming into care. Maybe the children who have never been in care before, families that had been working with the county to try to receive resources and now are feeling those stressors.
And as far as children who are already in care with our foster care parents, we are seeing foster care parents having to step up in bold new ways, you know, because they're also suffering the effects of the pandemic. Foster parents who originally were working full time outside of the home are now, many of them, working in the home. Trying to work full time and also doing homeschooling for children who had been going to public schools.
Glenn: And are you concerned that some of these foster parents might say, "I didn't sign up for all of this, I didn't expect this pandemic. I didn't expect to be out of a job. I didn't expect to have them home all day and having to homeschool them." Are you concerned that that might make them want to not be a foster parent any longer?
Ford: That's definitely a concern. I think that's a very valid concern. And we've been very fortunate with our agency. We are a faith-based agency. So we've seen a lot of our foster parents see the ministry behind this. And it's kind of stepping up to the mission and the ministry.
However, this is something bigger than I think a lot of our foster parents realized when they took on this responsibility or stepped into this. So we are going to be seeing in general across the board foster care parents who are saying, "I can't do this," even if their heart is willing. We're going to have foster parents who are already doing this are going to find that their resources are tapped out. And there is that possibility of them saying, you know, "We just don't think we can do it during this time."
Glenn: Do you think that there are enough in the pipeline who are licensed, who can fill the void if you start seeing more children being brought back?
Ford: No. We don't have enough in the pipeline now, to be honest. I mean, there is a need for foster care parents. We do not have enough parents to meet the need. We need people to get involved and recognize, even if you're not a foster parent now, there are ways that you can support agencies such as Bethany. But also, you know, look around your neighborhood and your churches. There's people already fostering. How can you support? Can you make a meal or can you watch a kiddo a few hours a day or read to them over a Zoom. Or video technology, just to give that foster parent a break.
Glenn: What about the children themselves? What about the children who might be anxious with this coronavirus, with a big change in not going to school every day, with maybe a fear that they might be given back because of everything that's going on? What's your advice to foster parents in dealing with children who might be suffering from anxiety?
Ford: We advise our foster parents to try their best to stick to a routine. I think consistency is key because you want these children to feel safe. Also, just how you approach and talk to your child. If a foster parent is feeling a lot of anxiousness, children can sense that. We also tell our parents to please practice self-care and we want them to take care of themselves. You know, we really want to create a kind of calm, and very consistent and stable atmosphere for the children to help relieve some of that anxiety.
Glenn: Well, thanks for talking with us today.
Ford: You're very welcome. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Glenn: Kim Ford is the foster care supervisor for Bethany Christian Services here in Charlotte.
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