It’s no secret one of the most at-risk groups in this time of Covid-19 crisis is kids in the out-of-home-care system.
There are a number of reasons for this:
1. Kids in care are usually dealing with underlying trauma, and the change in routine and expectations can really mess with their heads in a significant way.
2. Kids who have attachment issues find cabin fever far more difficult to manage or understand than the rest of us, and it can cause their behaviour to escalate, and/or their mental health to take a hit.
3. Carer families have less access to respite care (avoiding multi-family contagion issues).
4. Carer families are under far more pressure than usual, as they navigate their kids being at home more often than usual.
5. Kids in un-safe environments are less likely to be seen or noticed outside their situations at this time than usual.
State governments know these issues exist, and are doing everything to support carers and kids that they can at the moment, like allowing foster kids to attend school when other kids are at home. But most of these kids are still self-learning online with supervision at school, not attending classes tailored to their individual needs.
The sad reality in this nation is that we have less carers than we need. We have an increasing number of kids entering the system, and a decreasing number of carers to respond to their needs and to raise them. This issue is no different now than it was prior to this national emergency, but it has meant there was no margin to be able to respond to the need when the emergency came.
And one of the difficulties we face is knowing how to respond, when our usual human response to crisis is to be together, and to offer assistance in person. As our isolated lives now prohibit this, it’s very difficult to be helpful in a practical way.
So we’ve tried to outline a few options for you, so you’ve got a place to start in regard to supporting people you know who are caring for kids in out-of-home-care.
1. Pray. Nothing could be more important than this. Kids need your prayers, and the carers caring for them need your prayers. They will have moments when they feel they can’t go on, and moments when they’re begging God for this isolation to be over. They will have moments when they consider giving up. You can be a warrior on their behalf. You can be like Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ arms on a hilltop, as Joshua fought the battle in the valley below. We need each other… and in the absence of being physically with each other we can get on our knees.
2. Encourage. I’ll share a secret with you: carers often don’t feel like anyone even notices. A small gesture like sending a text or an email or a card in the mail with a Scripture on it, or ‘I’m praying for you’, or ‘Keep going!’ can make all the world of difference to a carer who’s struggling through each day. It may not feel like much, but those check-ins are profound. Just last week I received a Gourmet Easter Egg from my employer. It was delivered to my house with a small card reminding me I’m valued. I was amazed how much difference that small gesture made to my spirit. So imagine how much a similar gesture could make to someone you know who is giving their days and nights to a child they didn’t bear?
3. Ask if there’s a practical need. Most foster kids have their needs met by agencies and Govt departments. But there could be other things that would speak loudly to them that someone cares. What about a special book they’d like, or a puzzle, or a tutor for a class they’re struggling with, or a music lesson online? All these things say, “We’re in this with you!”
4. Offer to help de-escalate. Sometimes when there’s a disagreement within a home it’s hard for those involved to calm things down, especially with a child who has trouble regulating their emotions. If you’re well connected relationally, you could offer to be on the end of a phone on speaker, and talk things through calmly and rationally with the child – perhaps even distract them first with a story or joke or questions about a TV show they like, before suggesting ways they could work through it. The help this would be to a carer who has only a certain number of tools up their sleeve is priceless. And all you need is a phone to help enormously.
5. Celebrate successes. Celebrating helps kids know:
1. That they’re important, and 2. That their behaviours can have positive consequences. How about offering to celebrate with cupcakes and a quick online party? Prob best to deliver the cupcakes, but you can join the family online to celebrate a success, say how proud you are of them, etc. Maybe it’s for a week of schoolwork with no major meltdowns. Maybe it’s for cooking dinner for the family, or doing household chores without being asked. Maybe it’s gathering a few people online to have a birthday party. All these things say ‘you matter’ to a kid who often wonders if that’s true.
We’d love to hear other ideas from you for how to support foster families through this time, and stories as to how you’ve gone about doing some of these things yourself.
Let’s remember the vulnerable kids in our nation at this time, and those who’re loving them to wholeness.