'I feel sad for the kids': How the pandemic is affecting foster families
TORONTO -- Efforts to stop the novel coronavirus are adding heartbreaking challenges to those already faced by foster families across Canada.
From foster parents watching already-vulnerable children struggle with increased isolation to birth parents unable to see their children in-person to the children themselves, struggling to cope with the pandemic, advocates say every part of the foster family has to deal with new difficulties.
"None of us were prepared for something like this," Marcy Perron, a foster parent in B.C., told CTV News in an interview.
The early days of the pandemic were a "scary time" for foster families, Perron said, because the movement of children within the system made the risks of COVID-19 transmission apparent.
"Foster parents are in the same position as being a front-line person (with) new children coming into care and being placed into homes that would also put foster families and foster parents at risk," she said.
Perron and other advocates said that there is a limited picture of whether those fears were realized, as lack of comprehensive tracking and data related to the novel coronavirus makes it difficult to establish what spread, if any, the virus has had through the foster care system.
Beyond that, while placements continue, distancing requirements mean most children are no longer able to have any physical contact with their birth families.
Perron showed CTV News letters and drawings from her two foster children during the pandemic. The 12-year-old child said that they miss their birth family and virtual visits with them are "just not the same," while the nine-year-old child's drawing summed up the situation in two words: "It sucks."
Based on her conversations with other foster families, Perron said she believes the sentiment is much the same across the country.
"I feel sad for the kids and I feel sad for the parents," she said.
Kevin Harris, the president of the Canadian Foster Families Association who is currently fostering a child in Saskatchewan, said it’s been difficult for the child because he can’t visit his grandparents and aunts and uncles who are living in lockdown on a First Nations reserve.
“It certainly creates a level of anxiety for our kids when those situations happen,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “Relationships are really important for healing to take place so having long-distance relationships through different means, like video or FaceTime, are OK, but it’s still not that embracing, that ability to be together, to be side-by-side, and have that personal touch.”
Lack of contact with birth families is not the end of it, though. Tammy Roberts, who fosters children in Yellowknife, told CTV News that foster children are also suffering by not being able to see friends they have made in their foster homes.
"Isolation has been a challenge for some of them, especially if they have mental health issues," she said.
Beyond the impacts on foster families, there are also fears that the foster care system itself is being hurt by the pandemic.
Finding families willing to accept foster children is difficult at the best of times. During the pandemic, recruitment has been an even greater challenge.
Harris said recruiting is an ongoing effort and they will never have enough foster families. What’s more, he said providing training to new families has become more difficult during the health crisis.
“So now we're looking at different ways of connecting with our families so that they can be trained so they can start taking kids,” he explained.
Roberts is among those working to find new foster parents – a difficult job that she said is well worth it.
"It's challenging being a foster parent, but the rewards are so much better than the challenges," she said.