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Our Work Continues: Foster Care Systems Supporting Families Despite Social Distancing Challenges

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

In recognition of National Foster Care Month in May, we are pleased to share updates from our foster care programs. The Foundling’s foster care programs serve over 1,000 young people, from newborns to young adults, every year. Recognizing the trauma and risks associated with family separation, as well as the abuse and maltreatment that lead to it, our programs are specially designed to support families through challenging times. In cases where more extensive support is needed, specialized foster care programming helps address significant behavioral or mental health concerns.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, The Foundling’s foster care staff are working with families and children to address serious challenges to wellbeing while also facing their own personal struggles. Despite the difficulties, they have not only managed to continue providing essential support, but have also worked tirelessly to adapt their work and support to be effective within our current situation.

It’s no secret that family separation is a harrowing experience. For many young people in foster care, separation causes serious trauma, in turn causing anxiety and depression. Stressful situations, like stay at-home isolation, can easily trigger those symptoms.

“I tell them it’s okay to feel this way,” says Maria Lubina Qadeer, a sociotherapist in our Treatment Family Foster Care (TFFC) Program, “but to focus our energy on what we have control over and not what we don’t have control over.”

With stay at home orders keeping New Yorkers isolated in their homes, the support that Maria and other foster care staff provide to families is critical now more than ever. Many young people in foster care are dealing with incredibly difficult emotions on top of existing challenges. Some have withdrawn, are eating less and have isolated themselves in their rooms; others have acted out by disobeying stay at home orders.

“My role overall is to make sure the child is thriving in their home. If they are not, I try to support them with different interventions.”

To that end, Maria and her team have added daily check-ins, in addition to normal weekly check-ins, for more extensive support. This time ensures that families aren’t displaying COVID-19 symptoms and have access to necessities, while also providing more regular emotional support.

“The current sessions, in light of COVID-19, are foremost about ‘how are you feeling and managing today?’ Living in isolation, this additional social emotional support is what they need,” Maria explains.

“It may be harder to get the children to describe difficult emotions by phone or video conference… we are working harder to keep those relationships strong so we can help them work through whatever they’re feeling.”

Simultaneously, one of the greatest challenges facing our families and staff is the loss of foster parent lives to COVID-19. Due to various socioeconomic factors, foster parents – especially those who are relatives of the young people in foster care – generally tend to be older, and may suffer from pre-existing conditions. As a result, many fall into the virus’s most at-risk populations.

“The foster parent losses have been tragic,” Elizabeth Wright, Vice President of Family Foster Care mourns, “especially because we can’t express sympathy in the usual ways we would.” To compound this, many foster care staff have suffered tremendous losses of their own family and friends. “They go from those difficult situations at home to more difficult situations at work,” Elizabeth says, “That weighs on me, and certainly it weighs on my team.”

Nonetheless, foster care staff have rallied to support each other in order to continue supporting the families. “I’ve been amazed by their ongoing, overwhelming commitment and dedication,” Elizabeth adds, “It’s made me feel really proud.”

Maria feels the love and support on her own team: “[We are] good at utilizing each other for processing the different situations that occur with our families and youth. The most important thing during difficult times like these is being a part of a communicative team.”

Meanwhile, foster parents and birth parents alike have remained understanding and supportive as they work with staff to push through together. The Foundling’s staff have been able to continue frequent family visitation virtually, keeping birth parents in touch with their children through the crisis. Though visitation with young children and babies has been more challenging, foster parents have risen to the occasion by sending regular photos and videos to birth parents in lieu of in-person visitation.

“In the beginning there was a lot of uneasiness around how much support we would get, but there has been clear support,” Elizabeth says, explaining that the system is adapting to meet the current needs. While permanency placement had been made difficult with temporary closure of family courts, the system has started to go virtual.

The capacity is seriously limited, however, and in the interim The Foundling has pushed to review cases where extended visitation and trial discharge had already been granted. This has helped reunite youth with their birth parents sooner than originally anticipated, bringing families back together in this difficult time.

There is still work to be done and more challenges lie ahead, but Elizabeth is optimistic about things to come. “System-wide it’s been really collaborative… [it’s] been really encouraging and hopeful.”

To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

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