by Diane Kindler, MSW, LCSW
This will be a school year unlike any other due to the COVID-19 health pandemic. Traumatic histories and multiple moves mean that change is especially difficult for many children in foster care. Children who are prone to anxiety or depression may experience a worsening of symptoms. Behavior problems may intensify. Issues that seemed “under control” may reappear as some children regress under pressure. The impact of COVID–19 on their school plans will likely be very disruptive.
How do you help a child who was struggling even before the world got turned upside down? While there aren’t any easy answers to these questions, here are some strategies that might work for you and your family:
Provide a routine – it’s more important than ever. A regular schedule for meals, schoolwork, chores and recreation brings stability in a time when so many things have changed.
Talk about COVID 19 with your foster child. Provide age-appropriate information about the pandemic in order to decrease their sense of helplessness. Share with them ways in which people in their community are working to cope with the challenges of COVID 19. Keep them informed of developments which will affect them such as changes in their school schedule.
Never underestimate how much the basics of good care help children feel more secure. Good nutrition, adequate sleep, and plenty of opportunities for movement every day help them cope with the stresses they are experiencing.
Focus on strengthening your relationship with your foster child. Remember that the trusting relationship between a foster parent and their child provides the basis for healing and growth. Try to use your time together in a way that promotes your connection with each other. In the long run this “new normal” may provide some unexpected opportunities for your foster son and daughter to develop stronger connections to you and other family members.
Keep in mind that, even if they don’t say so out loud, your foster son or daughter is wondering about how their birth family is coping with COVID 19. Let them know that you understand that they may be worried about their parents and siblings. Support them in maintaining safe contact with their families.
Don’t underestimate the educational value of everyday experiences. A great deal of important learning can occur within the context of everyday activities. Although they may not be learning math in a classroom your child can learn about fractions by measuring out ingredients to make muffins for breakfast. Watching the news together and discussing the upcoming elections with your older kids may be the most interesting social studies lesson they’ve ever had.
Accept that this is a stressful time for everyone including you. This may be the time to cut everyone, including yourself, some slack. In a crisis, you have to focus on the basics of living together. Try to fit in time for self-care, as hard as that might seem to do. Let the laundry build up a day longer and chill out with your family and watch a movie together.
Remember that this too will pass. Sharing your realistic optimism about the future with your foster child will help them deal better with the challenges they face in the present.