Help available to youths aging out of foster care amid pandemic

February 9, 2021 op-ed by Megan Henry in the Columbus Dispatch

“Having a relief package like that was a big boost to my morale,” said the 20-year-old. “It’s very comforting and it’s a lot of relief and stress off my shoulders.”

Sandhu entered the foster care system when he was 15and emancipated after he graduated from Findlay High School in northwest Ohio in 2019. 

Read the full op-ed here.

Former foster youth engage First Lady

September 8, 2020

Former foster youth affiliated with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Intern Program write to the First Lady to thank her for her support of the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Representatives Danny Davis and Jackie Walorski. “The provisions of this legislation would make a significant difference for older foster youth facing unprecedented stress amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, to make this a reality and deliver the necessary relief, we now need Congress to come together and act and pass this legislation.”

Letter here.

Children in foster care must go to school in person, Department of Child Safety says

Arizona Republic, July 29, 2020

“The Arizona Department of Child Safety has advised foster parents and relatives who care for kids in DCS custody that the children should attend school in person, whenever schools reopen.”

Suzanne Cordiero, a foster parent, said the people actually caring for the child in their homes should determine what’s the best school option. A blanket order — even with some exceptions, which DCS says it will consider — signals that foster kids aren’t the same as other kids, she said.

Full article here.

Proposal cuts $130 million from Texas health agency to ease coronavirus-battered budget

July 9, 2020 The Statesman

State officials have proposed cutting $133 million in health services from the current budget, whittling away dollars in women’s health, child abuse protection and services for adults and children with disabilities, according to advocates.

The cuts are in response to a May 20 directive from Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen to state agencies to cut 5% from their current two-year budgets as the state grapples with the spread of the coronavirus and a weakening economy. The proposal by Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which consumes the largest portion of the state’s spending after education, could potentially reverse legislative requirements to better oversee child care facilities and court-ordered mandates to improve the state’s beleaguered foster care system.

The proposal is also sparse on details about how women’s health, family violence prevention programs and services for individuals with traumatic brain injuries — all mentioned as possible cuts — would be affected.

Full article here.

Coronavirus Cases Near 100 for Youth in California Residential Facilities

July 9, 2020 Chronicle of Social Change

Almost 100 children and teens living in residential facilities in California have caught the coronavirus, state officials confirmed this week, including infections at four group care programs in Los Angeles County.

The number of infected children is a fraction of the more than 2,600 foster youth in residential programs in the state. But it is nonetheless a sign of the rampage the virus has been on of late – striking not only prisons and nursing homes, but centers for children who have been taken from their parents due to abuse or neglect. Some youth have been sent to quarantine in trailers.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Barbara Ferrer on Wednesday suggested that deaths in the county could soon rise thanks to an increasing number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations.
“We should be worried because there are a lot less eyes on these facilities, especially now during the pandemic,” said Jacqueline Robles, a 21-year-old former foster youth working as a peer advocate for the law firm representing Los Angeles County children.

Full article here.

A Young Leader from Iowa asks Congress to support older foster youth

Tee, a former foster youth from Iowa shares results from FosterClub’s second poll of youth from foster care who are transitioning to adulthood, between the ages 18-24. Tee is currently in her last year studying social work and struggling to switch from hands on to online education. Tee has lost 2 of her 3 jobs as a result of COVID-19. FosterClub’s most recent poll found that,

65% of foster youth have lost employment as a result of COVID-19
41% who have applied for unemployment have not received assistance
52% have not received a stimulus check
Tee asks Congress for support stating that an increasing Chafee funds would support older youth in care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 has largely spared the state’s youngest. But in Massachusetts group homes, infections touch many more

Boston Globe, June 29, 2020

More than 8 percent of children living in Department of Children and Families group homes and similar settings have contracted the coronavirus, a figure that far outstrips the rate among young people elsewhere in the state.

The first case of COVID-19 in so-called congregate care surfaced in early April, according to DCF officials, and similar to other corners of Massachusetts, the virus has proliferated since. Of the roughly 1,700 children in state custody living in group homes or residential school settings, 144 have so far contracted the virus.

State officials have not reported any COVID deaths among children in DCF group care, and none of those who tested positive are believed to have been hospitalized, said Maria Z. Mossaides, the head of the state’s independent Office of the Child Advocate.

All but one child has recovered as of June 23, the last time state officials updated their weekly disclosure of cases at various state facilities.

But the share of children who’ve become infected stands in stark contrast to the virus’s apparently scant spread among young people statewide. Of the state’s nearly 109,000 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, about 5 percent were under the age of 20. And those roughly 5,800 cases account for less than 0.4 percent of the nearly 1.6 million people living in Massachusetts who are 19 years old or younger.

The data offer what officials say is another example of how congregate living situations, such as nursing homes or independent living centers, can be ripe for spread. They also note that children in group homes may be subject to more testing than the general population.

But among some of the state’s most vulnerable children, it also underscores another concern, advocates say: the outsized impact the virus has had on people of color. Hispanic and Black people made up 47 percent of minor children in congregate care, according to DCF’s most recent annual report, even though they account for just 19 percent of the state’s total population.

White people made up 41 percent of those in congregate care, where children live under 24-hour supervision in group settings.

State officials have released little publicly on the children in group care who have tested positive, including their age, race, or gender — information that is regularly collected and disclosed on other COVID cases statewide.

And the information that is regularly released on DCF group homes, which are run by outside vendors, is limited: It doesn’t include the number of cases among staff members, nor does it show the location of the group homes that have reported cases.

The thin disclosures have frustrated child advocates and attorneys, who say that despite formal state guidance for group homes on navigating the pandemic, they’ve heard anecdotal reports of protocols varying widely in settings where quarantining children — who often share rooms and bathrooms — is already difficult.

“It’s demonstrative that congregate care is an inherently dangerous environment,” said Cristina Freitas, an attorney and member of MA Child Welfare COVID-19 Coalition, a collection of roughly a dozen advocacy groups, law firms, and others. “They’re not built to support that type of social distancing [recommended by health officials] and a lot of these facilities, especially with DCF, only have one or two bathrooms.”

Freitas said she and her law partner and sister, Debbie Freitas, have filed public records requests seeking more information since April, only to face a tangle of responses from DCF; the state Department of Early Education and Care, which licenses group homes; and the state Department of Public Health, which handles the overall COVID data reported by the state. Each agency said it didn’t have in its “custody or control” the demographic data, or couldn’t say who did, Cristina Freitas said.

That lack of information on nearly 2,000 children in state custody points to what Debbie Freitas called a “constant struggle of transparency” within DCF, which has long released what advocates say are incomplete or delayed data.

“It’s about releasing data to save lives, not reputations or egos,” Debbie Freitas said.

State officials defended their handling of congregate care settings. They said the department’s leaders have held weekly or biweekly calls with group home providers in addition to offering mobile testing at homes starting April 10.

State officials last updated a 19-page set of guidelines for group homes on April 14, included telling homes to exclude any staff members who test positive from returning to work for at least seven days until after they were tested. The state also requires that all staff be screened before entering a facility, to further guard against potential spread.

“Child protection is the first and foremost priority of the Department of Children and Families,” said Andrea Grossman, a DCF spokeswoman. “Throughout this unprecedented pandemic, the Department has maintained close communication with providers to triage and respond to issues as they arose, such as helping providers source personal protective equipment for children and staff. We are pleased that the vast majority of children who tested positive have clinically recovered.”

Mossaides, the state’s child advocate, said within many of DCF’s 250 congregate care facilities, it’s inherently difficult to separate children. Getting a hold of personal protective equipment early in the pandemic was also challenging, and while the state allowed for emergency sites for those who have tested positive — DCF secured 21 beds across four sites — officials tried to avoid moving vulnerable children unless absolutely necessary, Mossaides said.

But she otherwise praised the steps DCF and state officials took, both in offering testing and including DCF’s medical director in decision-making on children’s cases.

“The idea that only one child is currently diagnosed with COVID-19 is a testament to what policies were implemented,” said Mossaides, who previously was executive director of Cambridge Family and Children’s Service, which manages two group homes.

Mossaides said the vast difference between the infection rates among children in group homes and children statewide could be attributed to both the cramped setting of a group home and the level of testing to which the children are subjected.

“I think we’ve done a lot more testing with this population,” she said. “I can say, literally in the first couple days and weeks thereafter, I was involved in daily briefings: ‘What do we need to do? Are we doing enough?’ In that sense, I think there was an immediate response.”

Even before the pandemic, officials have identified other worrisome trends in group homes. A state’s Child Advocate report released in November found that at least 184 children were neglected in such settings during fiscal year 2019 — a 55 percent increase over the previous year. More than 10 percent were 11 years old or younger, the report found.

Five group homes had three or more reports of abuse or neglect, Mossaides said at the time, and her office found a common thread of issues: problems with recruiting, training, and retaining sufficient staff.

With the pandemic, however, she said she’s confident the homes have the tools to be responsive.

“People are much clearer on what you need to do to make sure the environment is safe as it can be,” Mossaides said.

Article here.

Adoptions delayed for months by coronavirus closings to get their day in court

Tribune Content Agency – June 29, 2020

Foster families whose adoption plans got derailed by court closures prompted by the coronavirus crisis are set to receive some relief, with the judicial system no longer requiring in-person hearings. That means families whose hearings were delayed in some cases until 2021 may see their adoptions become legal in the next month or two.

Full article here.

Support Young People in Foster Care Beyond 21

Chronicle of Social Change

June 19, 2020

Op-ed by New York City Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner David A. Hansell shares below what New York City has been doing to support youth through extended foster care.

“No city or state across the U.S. should allow a young person to leave foster care, at any age, unless they have a stable and supportive living arrangement. And, the federal government should step in to provide states and localities with their share of funding for these youth in care over age 21, particularly during the pandemic. As we continue to face a world full of uncertainty, and added challenges, let’s make sure our most vulnerable young people — those who have been in foster care — have the support they need for as long as they need it. And especially during this crisis, we encourage other jurisdictions to follow our model and implement policies assuring that no youth leaves foster care without a place to call home.”

Op-ed here.

HUD Announces New Grants for Foster Youth to Independence Program, Bringing Total to Over 600 Vouchers Since Inception: Nine States to Receive Nearly $100,000 in Vouchers

HUD’s Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) Initiative is an initiative that provides housing assistance and supportive services to young people with a child welfare history who are at-risk-of or experiencing homelessness. FYI, in conglomeration with local resources, will assist communities in ensuring that every young person who has had experience with the child welfare system has access to safe, affordable housing where they are supported to reach self-sufficiency by working toward their education and employment goals.

Press release here.

Child Abuse Cases Drop 51 Percent. The Authorities Are Very Worried

New York Times

June 9, 2020

Reports of child abuse in New York City have dropped sharply since the coronavirus crisis began.

And that is worrying the authorities.

The steep decline could be a sign that an unseen epidemic of abuse is spreading behind locked doors, according to the police, prosecutors and child protection officials. As the virus has shuttered the city, the fragile system of safeguards designed to protect children has fallen apart.

Full article here.

‘COVID-19 has left me extremely vulnerable’: Helping former foster youth stand tall

Des Moines Register

June 10, 2020

Op-ed by Tiara Mosley spent four years in the Iowa foster care system and was a 2018 FosterClub Outstanding Young Leader. 

Foster youth are feeling isolated, hopeless, and overwhelmed during this pandemic. I recently participated in a virtual congressional briefing hosted by FosterClub, Youth Villages and Juvenile Law Center to elevate the voices of the many foster youth who are facing the burden of COVID-19 alone, I hope that Congress can provide emergency aid directly to young people from foster care so their accomplishments, success and lives are not completely derailed.

Full op-ed here.

Advocates change how they help at-risk kids during pandemic

The Post and Courier

June 7, 2020

Home is not always the safest place for children.

Advocates worry that elevated family stress, increased financial burdens and extended school closures mean that many children across South Carolina remain at a high risk for abuse and neglect during the pandemic.

The full extent of how this will impact the children is still unknown, said Carole Swiecicki, executive director of Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center in Charleston. Still, research of other large-scale community level disruptions, such as natural disasters, has shown a spike in child abuse in the aftermath of those events, she said.

That’s because during that time children are likely isolated from school, routines have been disrupted and their parents often have higher levels of stress.

Not only that, she said, but if parents are forced to return to work while schools remain closed, they might be more likely to turn to alternative child care providers that aren’t vetted by the state’s social services agency.

Full article here.

Foster Care Extension Proposed

Post-Journal – June 10, 2020
Legislation introduced recently in the state Assembly would establish a six-month moratorium on aging out of foster care. Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-Poughkeepsie, introduced A.10510 to add a new paragraph in the state’s Unconsolidated Law to require the state to continue providing the same care to youth and caregivers that would be provided had the youth not turned 18 years of age during the moratorium.

Full article here.

Child abuse hotline calls down 27% after pandemic hits Montana

Independent Record

June 7, 2020

From March 16 to May 20, calls reporting suspected child abuse or neglect dropped by 27% from the same period in 2019, according to data provided by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Teachers and staff are mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect, and they’re a major source of calls into the hotline, the department said in a news release on April 6. School closures began March 16.

“Now is when we really need the entire community, no matter if one is a mandatory reporter or not, to really watch out for our kids,” said department Director Sheila Hogan.

Full article here.

‘I just miss him:’ Coronavirus pandemic prolongs NYC mom’s fight to regain custody of toddler in foster care

June 1, 2020

New York Daily News

After more than a year apart, a New York City mom was finally on the verge of regaining custody of her 20-month-old son who’d been removed by children’s services as an infant and placed in a foster home.

Then coronavirus hit, shuttering the family courts, delaying a long-awaited visit, and stalling Maria’s case, her lawyers say. Maria’s son remains in foster care, while she watches the precious days tick by.

“I look around and I see all his little things, and it hurts with him not being here,” the distraught mom told the Daily News through tears.

Full article here.

Mental health hotline calls on the rise for children during pandemic

May 27, 2020


SALISBURY, Md. – While the coronavirus has impacted all of us in some way, some mental health experts say children may be struggling with anxiety and depression during the pandemic.

Doctor Kathy Seifert, a local psychologist, says across the country hotline calls and suicide rates for children above the age of ten are up. She says children could be suffering because of fear of the virus and a change of routine as they’re out of school.

Dr. Seifert adds that there are some warning signs parents can look out for in their children, including a change of mood, excessive worrying about the virus, plus changes in sleep.

Full article here.

Emergency placements of children deemed not safe at home spike in Washington

May 26, 2020, the Spokesman-Review

A growing number of Washington’s foster children spent nights in hotels and state offices in the first three months of the year, and child advocates fear the problem could grow during the coronavirus pandemic.

Social workers had 573 emergency placements in the first quarter of the year, compared to 371 during the same period last year and 212 in 2018, according to the state Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds, which tracks such placements.

Full article here.

Letter to Congress from State-based Child Welfare Advocates

In a letter to Congress, organizations affiliated with the State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC) and others urge Congress to take action to provide emergency federal funding to ensure that state and local child welfare agencies have the dedicated resources and flexibility they need during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep children safe, support struggling families, and ensure that foster families, kinship caregivers and other providers have what they need to continue taking care of our children and youth. Recommendations include:

  1. Congress should ensure that federal funding and guidance is available to meet the COVID-19 testing and PPE needs of children, families, and child protection workers on the frontlines of child protection.
  2. Modify the Family First Prevention Services Act in order to sustain a commitment to prevention and help state and local organizations keep children safe and out of foster care.
    • Remove the state match requirement for one year for Title IV-E prevention services. This would remove fiscal barriers to states’ implementation efforts and equip states to move ahead without delay to provide the array of prevention services that are needed now more than ever.
    • Expand the scope of allowable prevention services under the Family First Prevention Services Act to include evidence-based services that prevent or mitigate the effects of domestic violence, economic security and challenges facing children of incarcerated or re-entering parents; and
    • Increase flexibility by extending by one-year the option for states to claim transitional payments for services and associated costs under the Title IV-E prevention program.
  3. Congress should create an incentive payment for states, funded through supplemental payments to CAPTA’s state formula grants.
  4. Congress should increase funding for Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) by $15M and reinforce the importance of connecting a child to a medical evaluation by a physician or other health care provider with specialized expertise in diagnosing child abuse and neglect.
  5. Congress should improve health care access for vulnerable children and their mothers through these approaches:
    • Extend Medicaid access for a full year postpartum.
    • Provide eligible former foster youth immediate access to Medicaid until age 26, as called for in the Dosha Joi Immediate Coverage for Former Foster Youth Act.
    • Ensure that every eligible child has access to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  6. Congress should increase federal funding to the Court Improvement Program (CIP) by $30 million to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the functioning of child welfare courts.
  7. Federal legislation should require state and local child welfare agencies to collect data to help them assess and respond equitably to the needs of families in child welfare who are experiencing significant impacts from the pandemic.
  8. Congress should enact legislation to ensure kinship caregivers have the support they need to continue as vital caregivers.
  9. Congress should dedicate funding to address the growing demand for information technology support for children, youth, parents, caregivers and agencies.
  10. Congress should swiftly address the unique needs of older youth and young adults in foster care, and those who have recently aged out on their own.
  11. Congress should increase funding and flexibility for the Social Services Block Grant. Federal legislation should specify that states must involve stakeholders in decision making about allocation of these resources.
  12. Congress should establish an independent Children’s Commissioner to coordinate comprehensive solutions for kids.

See the full letter here.

More information about SPARC is available here.

She Escaped Sex Work for College. Now the Virus Threatens Her New Life

May 15, 2020, New York Times

“Even young people who seemed to have rock-solid plans for life after foster care are seeing those plans evaporate,’’ Kerry Moles, the executive director of CASA, an organization of volunteers that helps children in foster care, told me. Many 20-year-olds in the system also have children of their own, who are now further at risk.

Full article here.

What Happens When You Age Out of Foster Care During a Pandemic?

May 19, 2020 in The Nation

Advocates say state governors can instruct their state child welfare systems to keep kids in their care, even if they age out during this time—but will they?

California, Ohio, Illinois, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia have announced plans to extend the aging-out guideline past the age of 21 for young adults in care during the pandemic. In California, this extension is valid through June 30, and young adults will still remain eligible for extended foster care even if they have lost their jobs or their education programs have been disrupted because of the pandemic. In Illinois, the 104 young adults in foster care who would be aging out of the system from April through June are also allowed to stay in their placement homes “until the pandemic crisis is declared over.” At the end of April, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that the state would cover the costs for over 200 young adults who would have aged out over the next few months to stay in care until the pandemic ends.

Full article here.

Letter to Congress from state-based foster and kinship family organizations

Nearly forty state-based networks of foster and kinship families write to Congress to highlight the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these families and the children they are caring for. We hope Congress will consider this input as it continues to work on responding to the heavy toll of the COVID pandemic. Key points they share:

• Children and families involved in child welfare and the professionals who support them need access to rapid testing along with other first responders.
• Foster Families and kinship caregivers need economic security so they are able to continue their caregiving.
• Families and children need timely access to physical and mental health care for children and youth in foster care and those who leave foster care to reunification, adoption and guardianship.
• Foster, adoptive, and kinship family recruitment, training and licensing should be a national priority today and in the future.
• Families and workers need technology tools, including cell phones, laptops, and internet access.
• Children who have special needs require extra support with home schooling.
• Foster families, adoptive, and kinship caregivers need peer support.

Read the full letter here.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice Urges Congress to Provide Emergency Child Welfare Funding

May 8, 2020. In this letter, Gov. Justice urges Congress to provide emergency funding for the following programs:

  • $1 billion for Community-based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP) Grants
  • $20 million in Kinship Navigator Programs
  • $1 billion for Title IV-B Part 2
  • $500 million for CAPTA Title 1
  • $30 million for the Court Improvement Program
  • Increase FMAP for Title IV-E Prevention Program
  • Increase funding to Title IV-E Chafee by $500 million
  • Provide $100 million in one-time emergency support for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program.

Read full letter here.