Caring for Children in Foster Care During COVID-19
Caring for a Foster Child During the Covid-19 Pandemic
Q&A with Foster Family
The Roberts family has been fostering with Extra Special Parents (ESP), a foster care agency based in Virginia, since January 2019. They have fostered four children and are currently fostering two additional children since December 2019 (Andrew, 5; Nicole, 2). In addition to fostering children in their home, they are parents to their three other children: a 6-year-old son, a 13-year-old son, and a 20-year-old son.
They have immense experience fostering children, ranging from young children failing to thrive to older children with extensive trauma and mental health history. As foster parents, they immersed themselves in trauma-informed parenting, with patience and flexibility to meet children's needs.
Due to confidentiality, all names have been changed.
What was it like fostering children when the pandemic first began?
Mrs. Roberts: We already had a lot of things in place, so it wasn't necessarily harder. I think the hardest thing for me was the fact that they couldn't go to daycare and do other things. Also, while I was working and trying to keep them quiet, I felt really guilty because it was like yeah, you're gonna be in your room, and you're gonna be watching a movie. Things that we usually don't do or that are treats. It was just intense. In the beginning, for me, I was like, "Yeah, I get to be home!" But then, certain things hit you.
What are the biggest challenges of fostering children of young ages during this time?
Mrs. Roberts: During this time, for me, it's just, I guess, just making sure that they don't get it like with Nicaya, everything goes in her mouth. The biggest challenge is I wouldn't know what to do if Andrew and Nicole got it because they are foster children.
Mr. Roberts: If they did, they would have to be isolated from everybody and in their room all day. I think that's just another traumatic event for them.
Mrs. Roberts: I think the biggest challenge is they don't understand.
If you were fostering a teenager, what strategies do you believe would be the most effective?
Mrs. Roberts: Limiting electronics because they're already on it all the time. Communicating and being engaged with them more. They're probably in heaven right now because they can just stare at the screen. But making sure they are even more involved.
Mr. Roberts: Just keeping them informed because it's a new situation. Answering any questions that they have honestly. I think that goes a long way. Also, relating to their feelings and communicating to them why they can't do certain things or why things are the way it is.
What have been your biggest fears about fostering during this time? How have you coped with those fears?
Mrs. Roberts: Not giving the kids all of me. Being in the zone with myself. They get all of me, but so much energy goes into "are they ok? Ext. I cope by just doing what I can. Mr. Roberts helps a lot and tells me I'm doing my best. I'm always looking at the "what ifs" and he tells me to just take it day by day.
Mr. Roberts: My biggest fear is Mrs. Roberts getting COVID-19.
What are some unexpected positives you have noticed during this time?
Mrs. Roberts: More bonding time. It sounds weird, but there's more time around each other. We find out things about each other a lot quicker than the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
How have you coped with the children being out of daycare?
Mrs. Roberts: It was hard for me because I was not able to be 100% at work. Mr. Roberts is more flexible. I think I stressed him out, especially the times where Andrew would have a moment. But we coped by having a strict schedule. We allowed things that we normally wouldn't allow, like TV time in the room. We definitely emphasized naptime throughout the week, that helped out a lot.
What are some parenting strategies you have found most effective when they are home all day?
Mrs. Roberts: Limited electronic time. In order to get all the electronics, you have to read for a certain amount of time. Looking through books or like quiet time. Staying consistent
Mr. Roberts: Going outside. Consistently for twice a day.
What are some activities you have found most effective to keep children active and stimulated during the day?
Mr. and Mrs. Roberts: Trampoline, random walks...coloring, because you can talk about your feelings, or if you're bored, "why are you bored?" They can color that. Soccer and football would take him out and do soccer with a little goal.
How have you coped with the children being in daycare?
Mrs. Roberts: It was hard for me. It was a hard decision. The first week I was more worried about them being in daycare. But Mr. Roberts would tell me, "They are in daycare now, so you shouldn't worry anymore. You made the decision." And when they return, taking steps like they're not allowed to touch the door or anything. They come in they take up their shoes. Taking an immediate bath. I might be in the closet and spray the shoes. And I know everything's not 100%
What are some changes you've noticed in the children during this time?
Mrs. Roberts: They are more anxious and the behaviors. We can't tell if it's because of COVID-19 or their visits with their mother. But they thrive on structure.
What are some of the most difficult questions the children have asked during this time? How did you answer the questions?
Mrs. Roberts: Andrew will say, "Why won't you let me go to my mommy? Why am I here?" Andrew will say, "Can I live with my mommy after the virus?" So I think he's also thinking that that's a connection too because we've also said, "In the beginning, you can't go see mommy because of the virus." So I think it's those questions, and I answer it by being honest without saying too much. I just explain to him why he couldn't go with Mommy. Now things are a little better because of the virus; he'll have questions like, "Why are you keeping me here?" But I think that's just in general. Not because of the virus.
What is the best way to answer their questions related to their parents or caregivers?
Mrs. Roberts: Myself and Mr. Roberts had to have a heart-to-heart with Andrew and tell him, "If his mommy could get you right now, she would. But there are things she needs to work on. And we're all working together." Just trying to answer them in a kid-friendly way.
Mr. Roberts: Telling Andrew he has to be a role model for his sister and not to scare her or make her cry. And when that time comes, we tell him we're going to be sad, but we will be happy that he's back with Mom.
How have you handled the absence of face-to-face visitations during this time?
Mrs. Roberts: In the beginning, Andrew took everything out on us because he couldn't see his mom. When virtual visits happened, he would be fine until his mother would cry. He would never react then, but we would catch it later.
How have you handled the face to face visits that have resumed?
Mrs. Roberts: That's really, really hard for me. In the beginning, they would come back and go through the garage and get ready for a bath. Now for us, we just don't touch our faces or eyes. The challenge is not knowing what the parents are doing, who they're around, or if they would tell the truth. I know they want to see their babies. I just freaked out inside and battled with feeling like I was being a bad foster parent. I didn't think the visits should have been happening in the very beginning because there were so many things that others were not doing. But when I thought about it, I thought about you (Clinical Specialist) and knew you also had to do this, and we are all in this together. All we can do is take all these measurements.
How have roles changed in your household during the pandemic? What are some positives or negatives regarding those changes?
Mrs. Roberts: It's really like we were cars...which one has in it or which one's low. We just worked together.
What would you say to new parents or prospective parents who are reluctant to foster children during this time?
Mrs. Roberts: At first, I look at it and think, "No." Especially in the beginning. But I would say it's possible, especially with support. It's possible with support and structure. Don't freak out. Just continue doing what you're doing and maintain a routine.
Mr. Roberts: Just pre-plan. You have to think outside the box. Think about daycare, school, some activities... you really have to pre-plan. But you have you be flexible at the same time.
Mrs. Roberts: I stress about a lot of things that did not quite go right. But the end result for me is if the kids are safe or are the kids ok.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of fostering children during this time?
Mr. and Mrs. Roberts: Bonding and getting to know them better. I think just having fun with them, like going outside and stuff like that, and being creative with different activities—definitely the bonding, like on movie nights.
How have you been taking care of yourself and recharging during this time?
Mrs. Roberts: About a month ago, I started to get my nails done again and reading. I love to read and journal.
Mr. Roberts: I think the times that, you know, go to the store—those little 15 minutes. Or just maybe just running to the store. Those are good ways to recharge.
Mrs. Roberts: We started praying together.
What overall advice would you have for new foster parents or prospective foster parents about fostering a child during this time?
Mrs. Roberts: Be patient. Have a visual schedule on the refrigerator for everyone. Give rewards. And celebrate the little successes!