While it may seem as though we’ve made it through the worst of the pandemic, empty shelves and widespread shortages continue to plague the world. But, while empty and low inventory at stores may be an inconvenience, a shortage of foster parents is exacting a heavy toll on the foster care system and the children that rely on it for stability.
Reports of children sleeping in child welfare offices, lingering in emergency shelters, and languishing in juvenile detention centers, psychiatric wards, and treatment centers long after medically necessary demonstrate the severity of the crisis. In addition, pandemic-related issues and situations have resulted in more children being removed from their homes and needing foster parents than ever before at a time when the pandemic has also exacerbated a chronic shortage of safe foster homes nationally.
Several contributing factors have contributed to the situation.
Pandemic-Related Causes Increased the Number of Children Needing Homes
Globally, more than 140,000 children lost a caregiver or parent due to pandemic-related causes. The study estimates that 120,630 children in the US lost a primary caregiver (a parent or grandparent responsible for providing housing, basic needs, and care) due to COVID-19-associated death. In addition, increased numbers of caregivers face new struggles to support their children after losing jobs and stable homes. Chicago recorded a 33 percent increase in the number of children entering foster care.
Health Concerns Limit Foster Home Availability
The fear of introducing COVID-19 into their homes and jeopardizing their biological families has also played a role in the declining availability of foster parents who foster in their homes. For many, the concern centers around the risk of infection. For example, families are concerned that in-person visits with biological family members may expose others living in their homes to the virus.
Uncertainty and Instability Create Additional Challenges
Foster parents and potential foster parents also grappled with employment losses, financial pressures, and physical and mental health declines during the pandemic. One survey conducted by Fostering Families Today reported that declining mental health was a common struggle. More than half of those surveyed listed emotional and psychological difficulties as having had a “major impact” on their lives.
Expanded Responsibilities Stretch Capabilities
Foster parents also described a significant increase in their caretaking responsibilities. For example, during the pandemic, parenting also involved functioning as teachers, daycare providers, playmates, and COVID-19 safety enforcers.
Expanded Responsibilities Stalled Reunification and Adoptions
An American Academy of Pediatrics analysis found at least 8,700 fewer reunifications during the early months of the pandemic compared with the March-to-December period the year before. In addition, virus-related court closures and delays brought many visitations, reunifications, and adoptions processes to a halt: the result, a 16 percent decrease in reunifications and a 23 percent decrease in adoptions. In the end, at least 22,600 fewer children left foster care compared with 2019.
Consider Becoming a Foster Parent
While other facets of life may come to a halt during a pandemic, the need for safe and supportive homes for children in need continues. The focus of the SOS Children’s Villages Illinois mission to give children in crisis a normalized, family setting is only heightened right now.
Foster Parents are the cornerstone of the SOS Children’s Villages Illinois model. Unlike traditional foster care, the SOS Illinois model provides full-time, professional Foster Parents. SOS Illinois Foster Parents provide support and love in the stable setting of a single-family home in one of its Villages for up to six children, ranging from infants to young adults. While it’s not for everyone, there are multiple reasons to become a foster parent. If you are interested in changing the life of a child, click here to begin the process of becoming a Foster Parent at SOS Illinois.
Everyone Can Help
Although the need for foster parents is high, if you can’t serve as a foster parent, there are many other tangible ways to help children in foster care, from the simple act of supplying gifts from the SOS Illinois Amazon wish list to sharing your time and talent as an SOS Illinois volunteer tutor.
Your support makes it possible for SOS Illinois to provide safe, stable, loving homes where brothers and sisters can grow together in an individual home in the care of a full-time, professional Foster Parent without having to worry about “aging out” or losing touch with their siblings. Get involved today!