Foster care families have had an added burden this year with restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Durham Children’s Aid Society (DCAS) is one of a number of organizations in the region that provide foster services.
Andrea Maenza, DCAS communications coordinator, says the pandemic has placed many foster families in tough situations with personal safety, as many children are between households.
“They’re facing the same challenges we all are and then it’s compounded by the fact that their circle, you know their bubble is challenging because they’re sharing a child with another family,” says Maenza. “So that child is visiting with their biological family and then coming back to the foster home and that has been very stressful.”
Although the number changes day-to-day, there are currently around 307 children in foster care in Durham, according to Maenza, adding DCAS has 102 families approved for foster care in the region.
In addition to the health concerns, the pandemic has forced DCAS to change how it operates.
Along with offices being closed, many volunteer services were put on hold throughout the summer, says Maenza.
“We suspended volunteer services for the summer. We have volunteer tutors and mentors; those programs are still on hold,” says Maenza. “Our biggest volunteer service is drivers. Drives were suspended, but we resumed that program [with safety procedures] when school started in September.”
Being an essential service, DCAS continued running throughout the summer. Visits and consultations, however, were switched to a virtual format.
“When we closed our office in March, we did temporarily stop in person family access visits. We did conduct visits virtually for several weeks,” says Maenza. “In person visits resumed at the start of summer, either at our office or in the community, while adhering to all pandemic protocol of course.”
DCAS continues to need more foster homes for children and youth. Homes can be licensed to have up to four children depending on the makeup of the house and stability of the family, however, the pandemic has made many families think twice about taking in more children.
“We do have foster homes who may have had empty beds but chose not to take any more children during this time because of exactly those pressures,” says Maenza. “Maybe they’re already stable if they’ve got one or two kids living with them already, and it was just going to be too stressful to introduce yet another child into the mix.”
For families interested in fostering, the DCAS is holding virtual information sessions at the end of January and beginning of February. Families can visit the DCAS website for details.