Opinion: Don't let the pandemic keep you from caring for foster children
The pandemic is taking the world by storm, evoking chaos, fear and anxiety. Many feel cut off from compassion and community, and almost everyone is confused and wondering where they go from here.
Bethany Christian Services of Southeast Michigan hasn’t been immune to the scourge of COVID-19 — like many, we’re mourning the loss of life within our family. But while we are all impacted by this global pandemic, struggling families and vulnerable children are at risk of being forgotten.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's Stay Home, Stay Safe order requires families to disconnect from the outside world to decrease infection rates. While social distancing like this may result in better medical outcomes for communities, it can also make it difficult for others to notice the warning signs of child abuse. The pandemic is expected to lead to increased stress for families who may not have the necessary support and resources to ensure their needs are met.
How are we caring for our children and families during this crisis?
Can you imagine the impact of social distancing on a child in foster care? For a child whose world has already been shattered, a child that has already been disconnected from everything that he or she knows, to experience more change that brings more distance is devastating.
There are roughly 13,000 children in foster care in the state of Michigan, and half of these are from Wayne County. These are children that may already feel unloved and unwanted. Now, with the newly mandated social distancing, they cannot even see or touch their parents, many of whom have been working hard to reunite their families.
Many families involved in the child welfare system are already dealing with such complex issues as substance use disorders, mental health issues and domestic violence. As we implement stricter social distancing, these families may suffer from reduced access to the counseling and support services on which they rely.
The pandemic has also made the American people extremely anxious. Increased stress and mental illness can result in substance abuse or child neglect — both of which increase foster care placements or derail efforts to return children to their families.
It is our hope to support children and families through this outbreak by remaining connected with them and by supporting their timely return home.
Many families' reunification efforts are being delayed by factors impeding their ability to sustain court-ordered standards — like keeping a job, providing housing and more. If these parents cannot work, they cannot fulfill the mandates of the court.
The parent-child bond is extremely important, and social distancing weakens that bond for children in foster care. We must do everything we can to support the bond while keeping people safe.
We are still striving to reunite families and care for these children, but we cannot do this alone.
Don’t allow this virus to create more distance between you and what you have been called to do. If you have been called to foster, let us come along side you.
Our children need us to be there for them as they undergo some of the worst and most traumatic experiences in their lives. We can change the world through family. Won’t you help?
Starr Allen-Pettway is branch director of Bethany Christian Services of Southeast Michigan.