By Nancy Toscano, PhD, LCSW
A perfect storm of conditions – some economic, some health-related, some social – is conspiring to create a looming problem in the world of foster care. With Coronavirus creating havoc with the economy and fostering anxiety among many families about their ability to cope with a future filled with uncertainty, the demand for foster parents is expected to rise. At the same time, guidelines on social distancing and self-quarantining are making recruitment of foster parents more challenging.
Prior to the pandemic, foster parent recruitment already had its demands.
There are currently more than 1,700 children and teens throughout Virginia in foster care awaiting foster parents, special people who find in themselves reserves of love and compassion that they are moved to share with young people in need. While almost one third of children in foster care eventually return to their birth families, the bonds among some foster parents and their children grow so strong that they become permanent. Without their foster children, many families feel incomplete.
But now, in the midst of COVID-19, prospective foster parents are looking inward as they peer down the road ahead, and the uncertainty before them is fueling a reluctance to make long-term commitments. Without a clear sense of what their lives will be like next month or even in the year ahead, they are understandably cautious about taking on new obligations, even with that inner calling to help. With the pipeline of new parents in jeopardy, the foster care situation is becoming increasingly worrisome.
And yet, the demand for foster parents is growing, driven in part by the sweeping impact of the virus. Some parents may struggle to provide basic necessities for their families, forcing them to temporarily give up custody of their children for the sake of their well-being. Conditions can grow so difficult that the home becomes a precarious environment for children. Foster care can serve as a refuge to make sure children remain safe and are being raised in a nurturing home.
With our parent recruiting efforts as vital as ever, we are implementing new approaches to connect with potential parents to be involved in foster care.
Just as so many other businesses and organizations are doing, we are modifying how we have historically undergone engendering interest in foster parenting. Instead of our traditional in-person information sessions, we are going virtual, putting a series of sessions online for those who want to take the first steps toward learning more about what is involved in becoming a foster parent.
The application and training (now online as well) for becoming a foster parent can be rigorous. It’s vital, of course, that we identify the right kind of person willing to take on this responsibility, but it’s equally critical that parents recognize themselves whether or not they have what it takes. The attrition rate is substantial, with only one in three prospects making it all the way through the process. That is why our recruiting efforts are so important. We placed 72 children with foster families last year, and we expect to need at least as many parents in 2020.
Could you be one of these special people? If you are curious about learning more about foster care – about both the challenges and rewards that come with serving as a foster parent to some remarkable kids – we invite you to attend one of our upcoming virtual info sessions.
Virtual info sessions are held every other Tuesday evening. Upcoming sessions will be held on June 16, June 30 and July 7 from 6-7 p.m. Register at UMFS.org/foster or by calling 804-310-7572.
UMFS is a nonprofit agency that provides a comprehensive array of programs to meet the needs of high-risk children and parents to enable them to overcome challenging circumstances and succeed. A national leader in helping children, we also proactively identify unmet social service needs throughout Virginia and develop appropriate partnerships to address them. Learn more about UMFS, the families they serve, and how you can get involved at UMFS.org.