Everyone’s life has been changed by the coronavirus. Families are spending more time together under difficult circumstances. Our routines have been disrupted. The threat of serious illness is always present. Financial concerns are on our minds. Foster families must cope with all of these challenges while meeting the needs of their foster children during a crisis.
Foster children all share the experience of having been traumatized by the circumstances that led to their coming into the child welfare system. They’ve also had to adjust to a new family, school and community. Under the stress of the virus, foster children may re-experience some of the feelings and memories connected to things that happened to them in the past. Their behavior may regress. Some of the progress they have made in care may disappear. They may act younger, more needy and more anxious. What can a foster parent do?
This crisis is probably causing a disruption of your foster child’s sense of safety. When a foster child enters your home so many of your efforts go into helping them feel safe. You do this by creating a home environment which is stable and predictable. You establish routines which not only help your child learn how things work in your home but also give them a sense of safety. If you say that dinner is always at six, you do everything in your power to ensure that dinner is on the table then. When things have to be changed, you are careful to explain the change and the reason why it’s happening to your foster child. These are the things that help children to feel safe. As foster children feel safer in your home they begin to trust you as a parent.
Focus on helping them know that they are safe with you. As new circumstances come up at home, establish new routines and stick to them. Talk about how it is normal for everyone to have anxiety in times of change and share examples of things you are adjusting to. At the same time, express your confidence that things will get better in the future.
Do things together, but also try to make sure kids have time to themselves. Cook together, make up a question of the day (what is your favorite song?) to discuss over dinner, or ask your foster child to help you make a video of “a day in the life” of your family. Also, especially with older kids, try to ensure that they get some planned time alone if that is something they want and need. Even a “quiet hour” every day when interaction is not expected (and privacy is protected) can be very helpful for older kids and make them more open to being a part of the family the rest of the time.
Finally, remember that your foster child is worrying about other people their life, especially birth family members. Raise the subject with your foster child. Wonder aloud if they are thinking about their family a lot. In a time when many face-to-face visits with birth parents and siblings have been canceled, do whatever you can to support phone contact or virtual contact via Face Time or Skype. If technology is a barrier, reach out to those that might be able to help, including social workers.
Hang in there and try to take care of yourself, too. We will get through this. Remember that as difficult as this has been, it has given your foster child the opportunity to be part of a family that has made it through a crisis together. Whatever challenges they may face in the future, your foster child will have this experience of coming together to weather the storm.
by Diane Kindler