There are around 7,600 kids in Washington State’s foster care system. Yet foster families are in short supply. There are just over 5,000 homes with licensed foster parents in the state.
Plus, resources within the foster care system have become increasingly strained because of the pandemic. Even prior to the pandemic, Washington’s foster care system had to resort to housing harder-to-place kids in hotels. With the pandemic, however, many of those stays have been getting longer and longer.
So, while the state has started to take the first steps towards reopening our cities, there’s still plenty more to do — especially when it comes to caring for our foster children. If you’ve been thinking about fostering a child, this is a perfect time. Here are just a few stories to help you better understand why foster children need your help now more than ever.
This past year, children have had to adjust to an entirely new way of learning. When in-person instruction was no longer an option, schools resorted to remote and hybrid classroom settings overnight — a disruptive shift for students even in the best of times. Now, educators are reporting significant learning loss across the board, but particularly among Black and Hispanic students and students with disabilities.
Foster youth are already facing educational challenges such as disruptions to schooling, and the pandemic has only made these challenges more pronounced. Treehouse, a nonprofit organization that supports foster children, reported that a quarter of the 1,126 foster students surveyed suffered academically and the same number of students were “largely disengaged” from their schooling.
That’s consistent with the experience of foster parent Robin, who mentioned that one of the foster children in her care is at least a grade level behind now. Logging in virtually to both school and her therapy sessions made it easy to zone out, skip them, or walk away mid-session, which wouldn’t be possible in an in-person setting.
Many schools have resumed in-person learning, at least part of the time. Robin’s foster child, for instance, is now learning in person, although therapy sessions remain virtual for now. But re-engaging with kids who are not only dealing with disruptions because of COVID-19 but also because of a chaotic home life is an uphill battle that requires both attentive educators and supportive, caring foster parents.
Navigating The Need For Diversity
Children of color are overrepresented in the Washington State foster care system. Yet 70 to 80% of the state’s foster parents are white. So, it’s often impossible to place minority children with foster parents from the same culture or background. And even though many minority children will thrive under the care of foster parents of any color, it is still important and desirable to place children with those who share the same culture and background.
Cindy, a veteran foster mom in Snohomish County, mentions that she currently has three Black girls in her care who all want to be placed with a Black foster family.
And one of the girls she currently cares for is Somalian — her mother is a first-generation immigrant — and she has been in the system for several years. Before living with Cindy, she had had 28 placements in eight years. While this foster child will soon be adopted by a safe, loving (and white) family, it’s been a hard road.
When asked about what Washington’s foster-care system needed to better help kids like those in her care, she had two answers: more families from diverse backgrounds and more families trained to deal with trauma.
A Supply Shortage
Cindy’s answer above touches on the larger issue: there are not enough foster parents to go around. And further still, there aren’t enough who are trained to parent children with behavioral and mental health issues.
Another foster parent, Richard, tells the story of two brothers who were placed in their care a few years ago. After having been neglected by their mom for several months, they entered the foster care system. But their behavior was incredibly erratic, and many families were not equipped to handle that. Richard, fortunately, had the proper training and has been able to slowly make improvements. But it has not been easy.
And COVID-19 has only exacerbated that issue. Many families within the system have wanted to limit their exposure to the virus. And as a result, the pool of families willing to take children in has shrunk.
But as we start to reopen our communities and collectively find our footing in a post-COVID-19 “new normal,” foster children desperately need our support. Their lives have been completely upended. By becoming a foster parent now, you will be able to help them feel and be safe and secure as they learn to navigate their new world.
Take the first step and explore whether foster parenting is right for you. Enroll in our new eight-part webinar course on foster parenting, which covers everything from how you become a licensed foster parent to the complexities and everyday joys you will encounter while parenting. Click here to register now.