The rapid spread of COVID-19 forced our communities to engage in social distancing, closure of schools and reduced health care and mental health services. Although these precautions were put in place to protect us, it is having adverse effects on vulnerable populations like children in foster care.
As school systems closed in the spring or transitioned to virtual environments, this change impacted many essential school-based programs. Support services are imperative to the ongoing development for children who are already at a disadvantage due to no fault of their own. According to SAFY, more than 80% of the foster care youth are diagnosed or currently participating in mental health services, and the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable has become exacerbated during these times.
As a parent, many of us have spent the last couple of months and weeks wrestling with the idea that our journey through the 2020-2021 academic year will look a little different than we had imagined. Some families are choosing to return to in-person instruction while some are deciding that online learning is the best option for their families. Regardless of the decision, the learning must go on and parents have to get creative fast on how to support the most vulnerable.
Tips for the online student
To ease the worry, anxiety and fear in children who thrive best in structured environments, it is important to coordinate, collaborate and communicate within their existing networks. Contact the school and service providers to help identify what services can be offered virtually. If you are a family that has decided to do online learning, create a daily learning schedule to help keep structure while at home. If you have older children, create a digital calendar with Zoom classroom links posted so your child can easily access each class at the scheduled time they should be attending.
If your child is engaging in counseling, schedule those visits virtually or confirm if the service can be offered in-home versus the family going into a clinic setting. If your child is engaging in skills groups or targeted case manager service, join in and help the younger children engage virtually. Sometimes it is helpful for parents to practice and role play the skills being learned. Do not be afraid to engage when appropriate. If your child is in speech and this has been scheduled virtually, engage so you too can be actively learning techniques to help them practice outside of their virtual session.
Tips for in-person instruction
If your family has decided that in-person learning would be best, it is still helpful to prepare our children to operate safely in a school environment. To help ease the anxiety for students returning to the classroom, it is best to help them understand that the same thing applies when they are out in the community. CDC recommends cloth masks when in a social setting and children should continue to practice social distancing, doing their best to stay 3-6 feet apart from their friends and teachers. They should prepare to have their lunch in their classrooms at their desk.
Additionally, teachers have been encouraged to schedule learning activities outside of the classroom if possible so this is a perfect time to encourage your children that learning will look different but can still be just as fun. Because children use school time as a way to be social, help your children understand that not all of their friends will be returning to school. Encourage virtual play dates and group chats with friends. Both children returning and online learners still desire the connection with each other. And do not forget to review fun hand-washing techniques with your kids, reminding them to count to 30 before rinsing their hands.
Don't be afraid to support your children's needs
As parents of children from hard places, you are a major and sometimes the only source of support for your children. You realize your children need more than just their basic needs met in order to feel safe and secure in your homes and while learning. It is my belief that all children want to reach a point of self-actualization, but past traumas and crisis situations keep them from being able to do so successfully.
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the bottom of the pyramid covers the basic needs of food, water, rest, and clothing. Once that need is met they then will gain a sense of safety and security. Children who have their basic needs met, feel secure and safe are able to show love and feel a sense of belonging. This is where we see children make and maintain friendships and having meaningful connections with people allows for the opportunity for increased self-esteem where children feel empowered, respected and are able to give respect. Once all of these things are obtained know that anything is possible and you, as a parent, have helped your child reach a point of self-actualization, and they can reach their fullest potential. These things do not change because we are in the middle of a pandemic. You are a source of normalcy for an anxious child during uncertain times.
So, as we prepare for our children to return to school and they lean on us for the emotional and physical support, know that at Buckner, we are here to support you and your family. Also know that God chose you for the position of parenting a child or children from a hard place. You did not arrive at the decision lightly and now is as good a time as ever to lean on God’s word. God says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7). When you are grounded and walk in the word, you can and will be of support to the children God has called you to serve.
We at Buckner are wishing you and your families a happy, safe and healthy 2020-2021 academic year.
Written by Cameka Hart, foster care and adoption supervisor for Buckner Children and Family Services in Beaumont, Texas.