Addressing the Needs of Young Parents in Foster Care During COVID-19

Posted June 30, 2020
Young parents in foster care may require additional support during the COVID-19 pandemic

With schools and day care cen­ters in var­i­ous stages of shut­down, and job loss­es mount­ing for mil­lions nation­wide, the COVID-19 pub­lic health cri­sis has cre­at­ed acute finan­cial, med­ical and men­tal health chal­lenges for young par­ents in fos­ter care. To thrive, young par­ents need sta­ble, ongo­ing sup­port from adults who under­stand them.

In this Q&A, Pearline Rodriguez, a 19-year-old moth­er from Stat­en Island who has been in fos­ter care since she was 13 years old, and Tam­mi Flem­ing, a senior asso­ciate with the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, high­light how child wel­fare prac­ti­tion­ers can more effec­tive­ly sup­port young par­ents dur­ing this crisis.

Q: How is the pan­dem­ic affect­ing young par­ents in fos­ter care?

Rodriguez: Hav­ing a fam­i­ly net­work of trust­ed adults becomes even more crit­i­cal in moments of cri­sis, but many of us lack that kind of sup­port. My fos­ter moth­er, whom I have a good rela­tion­ship with, was diag­nosed with COVID-19, mak­ing it impos­si­ble for me to return home and grab any addi­tion­al belong­ings, for fear of contamination.

Thank­ful­ly, my daugh­ter and I have had a place to stay with her father and his fam­i­ly. Their sup­port has less­ened com­mon con­cerns like child care and finances, but that’s not the real­i­ty for many young par­ents in fos­ter care. I think about what we would be going through if his fam­i­ly wasn’t in the pic­ture. Lack of hous­ing choic­es and emo­tion­al or finan­cial sup­port is the real­i­ty for many par­ents in fos­ter care who don’t have a net­work of car­ing adults.

Flem­ing: The glob­al health cri­sis has revealed glar­ing holes in the child wel­fare sys­tem — the lack of safe hous­ing options for those in group homes being just one exam­ple. Though some chal­lenges are dif­fi­cult to tack­le in the imme­di­ate future, we can take oth­er actions that still pro­vide young par­ents with some emo­tion­al and finan­cial sup­port. Find­ing inno­v­a­tive, strate­gic ways to assist is crit­i­cal for lead­ers in the field.

Net­works of sup­port­ive adults can take on many forms. For exam­ple, part­ners in our net­works have worked with fam­i­lies to iden­ti­fy and cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for respite. Through the ARCH Nation­al Respite Net­work and Resource Cen­ter, we researched cri­sis nurs­eries that are oper­at­ing dur­ing the pan­dem­ic with­out restric­tions in place. It took six part­ners — includ­ing two young par­ents — two days to con­tact each of the 100 cri­sis nurs­eries. Only 42 were oper­at­ing, and of that num­ber, a quar­ter were pro­vid­ing child care for first respon­ders only. What ini­tial­ly start­ed as a long, unhelp­ful list that caused young fam­i­lies more stress was turned into a use­ful resource with imme­di­ate ben­e­fits. This is one exam­ple of pro­fes­sion­als tak­ing the lead, doing the work and pro­duc­ing a tan­gi­ble outcome.

Q: What resources are avail­able to young parents?

Rodriguez: An agency with strong child wel­fare pro­fes­sion­als is an invalu­able resource and is often the first line of con­tact for most par­ents. From mail­ing young fam­i­lies $500 gift cards to pro­vid­ing telether­a­py and vir­tu­al meet­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties with case­work­ers, my agency has cre­at­ed a vir­tu­al space of trust and com­mu­ni­ty. I’ve ben­e­fit­ed from reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions with indi­vid­u­als who have tak­en on spe­cif­ic top­ics they can speak to — for exam­ple, finan­cial assis­tance, par­ent­ing advice and men­tal and emo­tion­al well-being.

Com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions like the Cypress Hills Devel­op­men­tal Cor­po­ra­tion have worked to become a one-stop shop” for fam­i­lies, with onsite vol­un­teers pro­vid­ing guid­ance to finan­cial and med­ical resources. Cypress Hills has also helped indi­vid­u­als get test­ed for COVID-19. As a for­mer intern at Cypress Hills, I ben­e­fit­ed from learn­ing the work and find­ing a men­tor. So, it’s been great to see first­hand the dif­fer­ent ways in which they con­tin­ue to serve their community.

Flem­ing: The Casey Foun­da­tion, Abell Foun­da­tion and the Bal­ti­more Com­mu­ni­ty Foun­da­tion have all been sup­port­ing a part­ner­ship with the Bal­ti­more City Health Depart­ment and a Bal­ti­more-based dia­per bank — Share­Ba­by — to help dis­trib­ute more than 500,000 dia­pers to par­ents across the city. Schools and oth­er pub­lic agen­cies or orga­ni­za­tions have also pro­vid­ed hot meals, remind­ing us that great things can hap­pen when a com­mu­ni­ty comes together.

The Fam­i­ly First Act and Chafee Fos­ter Care Pro­gram for Suc­cess­ful Tran­si­tion to Adult­hood are two large-scale exam­ples of how child wel­fare pro­fes­sion­als can help guide young fam­i­lies to the sup­port they’re enti­tled to. We can also pro­vide con­tin­ued sup­port with infor­ma­tion about the stim­u­lus checks and access to tele­health and med­ical ser­vices through Med­ic­aid. For emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal well­ness, I have five tips for young par­ents to help reduce stress and anx­i­ety at home.

Child wel­fare prac­ti­tion­ers can be the biggest allies for expec­tant and par­ent­ing youth in care. We should be able to use our col­lec­tive pow­er to lever­age fed­er­al resources, make them acces­si­ble and pro­vide young fam­i­lies with ongo­ing support.

Q: How can child wel­fare and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers help young parents?

Rodriguez: Part­ner­ing with local com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions, men­tal health providers or even local col­leges to cre­ate a foun­da­tion of resources can be a pow­er­ful way for us to learn about job oppor­tu­ni­ties and ther­a­py ses­sions or make new, valu­able con­nec­tions. Many young par­ents hold entry-lev­el posi­tions, most of which have either dis­ap­peared or have put indi­vid­u­als’ health at risk due to the pan­dem­ic. Hav­ing adult part­ner­ships that can pro­vide — or guide us to — employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties would be an invalu­able asset. Checks and gift cards are great ways to pro­vide imme­di­ate relief, but we want to be inde­pen­dent and self-suf­fi­cient, even well after this health cri­sis passes.

Flem­ing: We need to rec­og­nize how the COVID pan­dem­ic has shift­ed our social land­scape — how peo­ple are con­nect­ing with each oth­er, mak­ing a liv­ing, see­ing a doc­tor and receiv­ing an edu­ca­tion. Tech­nol­o­gy has made con­nect­ed­ness between peo­ple pos­si­ble, but it also asks a lot from us. In-per­son doc­tor vis­its for pre­ven­tive care have dropped, but telemed­i­cine ser­vices have spiked since the pan­dem­ic hit. Kids are con­tin­u­ing their edu­ca­tion through online plat­forms, but those who have spe­cial needs are less like­ly to receive the addi­tion­al ser­vices that are avail­able in the class­room. We need to con­tin­ue find­ing inno­v­a­tive ways to sup­port these young fam­i­lies, par­tic­u­lar­ly the ones that may not have inter­net access read­i­ly available.

In the short term, we can con­tin­ue cul­ti­vat­ing youth-adult part­ner­ships to cre­ate valu­able resources. In the long term, we must con­tin­ue part­ner­ing with pol­i­cy­mak­ers, advo­cates and young peo­ple to improve poli­cies and prac­tices and rede­fine what safe spaces for young par­ents can look like.

Learn how to bet­ter sup­port young par­ents in fos­ter care:

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