Hope is Happening Here: Foster care and virtual case management is HAPPENING

By: Ally Smith

In our recent blog posts we discussed how our children and staff who live and work at Helping Hand Home are responding to social distancing during COVID-19. From virtual schooling, family time, and even virtual therapy, we are learning more and more every day about how our children’s lives are being transformed during this epidemic. In this blog, we step out of Avenue B, and are given a glimpse into how social distancing is uniquely impacting the many homes of our Helping Hand Home Foster and Adoptive Families.

Helping Hand Home’s Foster and Adoption Program serves approximately 145 children each year with placement and adoption services while recruiting and training foster families. Our foster care and adoption program specializes in therapeutic foster care. This type of foster care is a specialized type of care for children requiring more guidance and structure to help them be successful at home, in school and with their families and friends due to experiences with severe abuse and/or neglect.

Kristi Duck, Director of Foster and Adoption Services, gives insight on how the HHH Case Managers and Recruiters have been beyond supportive and are hard at work individualizing unique plans to keep our children and families in individual homes still feeling connected and supported until shelter in place is no longer enforced.

How has the shelter in place changed the case managers’ and WWK recruiters’ day to day routines?

Our Case Managers and Recruiters are still doing their monthly and bi monthly visits with the children in creative ways. With kids from all different backgrounds and ages, they are crafting different ways to connect with each child during their visits. Some case managers are “virtually” doing puzzles, building Legos, or even doing story time with the kids. I have one case manager who has a younger child she is working with and plays peekaboo with him for a few minutes to keep him entertained while checking in with her virtually. We even have some of our teen girls and case managers doing makeup tutorials, which is fun. The kids really like the different approaches the case managers and recruiters are taking to connect with them.  Their day-to-day support with families has transformed in a way we did not expect, but we are really trying our best to cater to each child like we normally do, but all via screen now.

You mentioned the type and level of support to foster care families has changed. Could you elaborate on that?

Our Foster and Adoptive parents are beyond awesome ALL the time because they genuinely want to make a difference in the lives of our children. Right now, truthfully, it has been a little more challenging for them. The parents are being asked to be everything for these kids: to being their parents, their teachers, taking care of their mental health, trying to take care of their own mental health, all the while still working at their own jobs without any breaks or childcare because of the shelter in place orders. These are people who have opened their doors to children who are not biologically theirs, these are people whose mission is to better these children’s lives. Now, our team’s mission is to wrap our arms around them. We want to be the shoulder for our parents to lean on when they are stressed. Sometimes, we are there to just simply say, “It’s okay, it doesn’t have to be perfect.” We are trying to help them feel that it IS OKAY to feel vulnerable and anxious under these circumstances.

You provide a lot of training for the families, how has the COVID-19 crisis impacted this important component of your program?

This past week was the first monthly training we have had since the epidemic.   We usually have it at the First Baptist Church, but we hosted it via Zoom this time. To our surprise, we had 71 parents tune in! This was an all-time high. Our topic was to discuss emergency behavior intervention, and we made it specific for interventions to use during these challenging times. There were no “right” or “wrong” answers, it was more of an opportunity to show how we are all doing the best that we can right now and how we have to lower the expectations for ourselves as parents. The training was very validating for our parents. Letting our parents share their experiences and tell each other, ”it’s okay that you are behind on the laundry or that you don’t know how to be a math teacher”. So many parents said they felt a lot better after the training! We have worked so hard to build a strong community for our families and it was great that they could actually see and support each other right now.

Have new families who have completed training stepped up to take placements or have they been hesitating?

Families have been stepping up, and I am super proud of that. We are not pressuring families to take placements right now, but I think what has been the most amazing thing I have seen on my end is that new families have been applying during this time even though it is very challenging and there are so many unknowns. It’s amazing that we have these parents willing to make a difference and step up to the plate for these kids. Kids are coming into care and needing placements every day and that is not going to pause or stop because of COVID-19. The fact that families are still turning in applications means that people are actively saying- “I want to do this right now no matter what the circumstance is”- that proves to me they want to work even harder to take a child into their family, even when things are not as accessible.  To me, that is success, and it’s incredible.

You mentioned new families stepping up, it really is amazing. What can we do? If members in the community were asking, are there ways they could step up and help support these children and families as well?

We have been asking people who are interested to sponsor meals for the children and families.  Even if we can get one meal to a family, it just makes a huge difference. Our staff has also been delivering quarantine packs with puzzles and activities and placing them on the doorsteps of our families’ homes. It’s the little things right now!  Every family has responded really positively to the acts of kindness, everyone is just really grateful.

Our HHH Foster and Adoption staff are doing everything they can to help our foster families provide consistency and structure for the children in their care. Our main goal is to help these families and children feel supported and maintain a sense of connection to community. As Kristi said above, COVID-19 does not pause a child’s need for placement, so we are beyond grateful for all of the individuals who have stepped forward to make this transition a little easier for our families in this time.  If anyone is interested in helping support these families as well, please email our Donor Relations Manager, Ally Smith at Asmith@helpinghandhome.org. We cannot say thank you enough!