“The Crisis in Foster Care” read the Washington Post headline. The article, dated January 10, 2020, talked about “an acute shortage of foster parents.” A simple online search yields numerous links to similar articles in recent years, decrying the shortage of foster families – both nationally and locally.
Less than a decade ago, there were fewer than 400,000 children in the United States foster care system (down from over 550,000 a few years earlier). Over the past several years, that number has steadily grown to nearly 440,000. Child welfare advocates point to the opioid crisis as one of the reasons for the increasing numbers of children in the system.
Given the increasing numbers of children in the foster care system, it is little surprise that there is a shortage of foster homes to take these kids.
Coronavirus’ Impact on Child Welfare
Now, a little more than three months after that Washington Post article, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to take an “acute shortage” and make it even worse.
With much of the nation quarantined, child abuse reports have dropped dramatically. According to the Los Angeles Times, up to 1,000 calls and reports of suspected child abuse or neglect are received every day by the Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Children and Family Services. Since the stay-at-home orders went into effect, those numbers have dropped by nearly 50%.
While this may seem like good news, it is not. Children experiencing abuse and neglect in their homes are more vulnerable during the pandemic because they’re often behind closed doors with their abusers 24 hours a day. Under normal circumstances, these children are in contact with safe, loving, caring adults, such as teachers, daycare workers, school nurses, doctors, etc., who can keep an eye out for signs of abuse and neglect and report any suspicions to the police or Child Protective Services. Now, under stay-at-home orders, these children suffer silently, hidden out of sight, alone and completely unprotected.
Child welfare officials and advocates are predicting that once restrictions are lifted, there will be a substantial increase in child abuse and neglect referrals. According to Jennifer Braun of the Alliance for Children’s Rights, “There is going to be a deluge of abuse reports when this comes to an end.”
Become a Foster Family
As investigations are completed and allegations substantiated, many children will be removed from their homes and will need loving temporary foster homes. The question is, where will these homes come from?
April and May, as National Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Foster Care Month, present great opportunities to not only raise awareness of the needs of children but also to hold foster parent recruiting events. With stay-at-home orders in place, recruitment of desperately needed foster parents becomes more difficult. Conducting foster parent training is even more difficult as they usually occur in group settings.
As followers of Jesus, all of this should grieve us. There were not enough loving homes for every child in foster care three months ago, and soon, there will be many more children entering the system in need of homes.
Thankfully, our God is “Father to the fatherless,” and He loves to “set the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:5-6) A global pandemic doesn’t change God’s word, nor does it change His call on His Church to love and care for vulnerable children.
God is good, and He is still at work in His people. Christian foster care ministries (and many agencies) across the country are adapting and training foster parents online. Some report large numbers of families signing up, but the need is so great. While online training is not ideal, it does accommodate more families as they do not need to find childcare to participate.
What You Can Do
Please, prayerfully consider becoming a foster or adoptive family. Ask God if He is calling your family to open your home to a child, or perhaps a sibling group, in need. If you believe God is calling your family to foster or adopt, then please contact your local child welfare office and ask for a list of agencies that are conducting online training during the pandemic. Or go to WaitNoMore.org and find Christ-centered agencies and ministries in your area and then contact them to see if any are offering virtual training.
If you do not believe God is calling your family to foster or adopt, He may be calling you to serve in some other way. Please consider supporting a foster or adoptive family in your church, or becoming involved in some other way.
If God is not calling you to become tangibly involved in these children’s lives at this time, then please commit to praying for them and their families regularly.
To learn more about how you can love and serve vulnerable children, visit WaitNoMore.org.