Families throughout Alexandria are working to adjust to the changes and stress associated with the COVID-19 crisis. For children in foster care and the resource families who care for them, this is a particularly challenging time.
Resource families are facing many of the same challenges that other families are experiencing, says DCHS Resource Family Coordinator Odessa Becker, such as learning to telework with children at home, supporting children in distance learning and helping children deal with the stress and fear related to the COVID-19 crisis.
On top of that, says Becker, resource families are also trying to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children who are also dealing with past trauma, neglect and abuse as well as disrupted relationships and separation from their birth parents and siblings.
“It can be a real challenge for some of these families,” reflects Becker, “dealing with telework, schoolwork and the emotional demands of the children.”
Becker is deeply moved by the commitment of these families, who provide stable homes for children until they can be returned to their birth parents or placed in a home with a relative.
Over the years, she has seen resource families support their foster child’s relationships with their birth families by inviting birth parents to holiday celebrations or throwing two birthday parties so that the birth mom and dad can each attend one if there is a protective order in place.
She also witnesses the deep relationships that form between resource parents and children in foster care. “I remember one foster dad helping his foster son fill out a form that asks for his father’s name,” Becker recalls, “and the child writes in the foster’s dad’s name.”
She recalls another family that took in a teen just for a weekend and two years later they were walking them down the aisle at their wedding and four years later at the hospital for the birth of that foster child’s second child.
“I admire the resource parent who is waking up multiple times a night to check on their child--whether it is assisting with potty training or night terrors or just to make sure they are still breathing,” she says.
“It is amazing to me the sacrifices these caregivers make even when they know this child may go home or to another family member. I am deeply grateful to the families who come back from that kind of heartbreak and take another placement.”
Placements have been difficult during the COVID-19 crisis, Becker says. Families are concerned about the risks associated with bringing a child into their home who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
“We have a hotel situation in place to assist with some of the placements,” says Becker. “But finding a resource parent who is able to pick up and leave their own home to stay in a hotel with a youth has been a challenge.”
In addition, training for new foster parents has been suspended due to the pandemic.
“There is always a need,” says Becker. “Our resource families fill up quickly so we constantly need new families who are trained and willing to provide a home to a child in foster care.”
Becker says there are numerous ways Alexandria residents can help support children in foster care and resource families.
For those interested in becoming a resource parent, Becker encourages them to contact Chrissy Levine at 703.746.5858 or email@example.com. Levine will explain the process and provide information on approval considerations and training, which Becker hopes will resume in the fall. Becker also recommends that those who are interested watch movies and read books about the foster care system and children in care.
“Foster by HBO is a good overview of what the foster system is like,” says Becker. “And ReMoved on YouTube is a great start.”
Becker also encourages residents to take advantage of resources online, particularly those associated with Foster Care Month, which is recognized annually each May.
Residents can also donate to the Fund for Alexandria’s Child, which provides gift cards to resource families for carry out restaurants, small care packages with family games, movies, art supplies or things that promote cooperative play.
“The Fund has been able to provide some extra help to some of our foster families during this difficult time,” says FFAC Coordinator Krystal Fenwick. “Their resilience and commitment to our kids and their health and wellbeing during time is truly remarkable.”