COVID-19

How the pandemic is testing the foster care system

Kristin Schwab Jun 25, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Government data shows that after the Great Recession, the number of kids entering foster care rose for five years. And the system couldn't handle it. Getty Images
COVID-19

How the pandemic is testing the foster care system

Kristin Schwab Jun 25, 2020
Government data shows that after the Great Recession, the number of kids entering foster care rose for five years. And the system couldn't handle it. Getty Images
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Arnie Eby’s wife, Donna, couldn’t join our Zoom call because she was a little busy managing a household of seven children. “She’s keeping the kids at bay outside,” he said. “You know, I’m sitting here right now looking out the window, and they’re jumping on the trampoline.”

The couple has four adopted children and three foster kids. They also have two biological daughters in their 20s, who no longer live at the family home in Hagerstown, Maryland. “It’s managing chaos from the minute you get up to the minute you go to bed,” he said.

Eby’s especially worried about the foster kids. They’re all siblings ages 5, 7 and 9. And because of the pandemic, they haven’t been able to visit their biological families, which he said is essential. “They need something that connects them to who they are and how they will make their way in the world,” Eby said. “And think about it: For the last 90 days, we are their only world.”

For months, COVID-19 has been disrupting families — and that includes foster families. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S.

And it’s not just foster families and children feeling the weight of the pandemic. The whole system has ground to a halt: The courts are backed up. Social workers can’t safely enter homes to check on kids. And reports to state abuse hotlines are down, in some states as much as 50%. “The places where children are normally seen, like schools, day care settings, are not currently in operation,” said Karen Poteet at the National Foster Parent Association.

It means once the pandemic is over, a flood of children could enter foster care. And then the number could keep rising. Government data shows that after the Great Recession, the number of kids entering foster care rose for five years. And the system couldn’t handle it.

“As caseworkers were scrambling to find homes for foster kids, many children wound up sleeping in hotels or in their caseworkers’ offices,” said Sherry Lachman at Foster America.

She said part of the increase was caused by the opioid crisis. But she also attributes it to the recession. Because with financial stress, child abuse and neglect rise.

Also, to an overworked caseworker, poverty can look like neglect — even when it isn’t. “So imagine going into an apartment and seeing mold on the walls, no food in the fridge and a 10-year-old taking care of her infant sister because Mom needs to go to work and can’t access child care,” Lachman said.

Experts are already worried about having enough foster parents to take in extra kids in a post-pandemic recession. Because they need financial security to even think about becoming a foster parent.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the latest on the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

As of now, those $600-a-week payments will stop at the end of July. For many, unemployment payments have been a lifeline, but one that is about to end, if nothing changes. The debate over whether or not to extend these benefits continues among lawmakers.

With a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, are restaurants and bars shutting back down?

The latest jobs report shows that 4.8 million Americans went back to work in June. More than 30% of those job gains were from bars and restaurants. But those industries are in trouble again. For example, because of the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, increased restrictions on restaurant capacities and closed bars. It’s created a logistical nightmare.

Which businesses got Paycheck Protection Program loans?

The numbers are in — well, at least in part. The federal government has released the names of companies that received loans of $150,000 or more through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Some of the companies people are surprised got loans include Kanye West’s fashion line, Yeezy, TGI Fridays and P.F. Chang’s. The companies you might not recognize, particularly some smaller businesses, were able to hire back staff or partially reopen thanks to the loans.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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