MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The coronavirus has shut down family courts across the country, putting a burden on foster children and their parents waiting to be reunited.
Marjorie Allen is experiencing grief but also hope. Her sister Sharon died in April from COVID-19. Her dying wish was that the baby she was fostering be reunited with her birth family. Allen is now caring for the baby, hoping to fulfill that mission.
“The goal is to get the baby back home, and she has a mother who loves her desperately and she has siblings, so the happy ending here is to go back home and be with her family. We will miss her dearly,” Allen says.
But closures of family courts are slowing down the process.
“Families are not being able to be reunited as quickly as they otherwise would have, so that’s very stressful on everybody involved,” says Alan Mucatel, CEO of New York City agency Rising Ground.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, more than 440,000 children were in foster care during 2017, with 56% of cases aiming to reunite the child with their family. Children who left the system that year spent an average of 14 months in foster care.
Mucatel says it’s taking longer now during the pandemic to reunite families. He fears the coronavirus will take an even greater toll on some communities.
“Children in foster care are disproportionately children of color, they’re disproportionately from low income families, and their families in general are being impacted by corona in a far more adverse way,” he says.
Rising Ground is trying to keep families connected through virtual visits.
“We’ve realized it’s better now to make the visits shorter in duration because of the attention span, but more frequent,” Mucatel says.
He says in addition to more frequent, virtual calls, families are participating in activities such as reading the same books or going for walks at the same time as a way to keep a connection during isolation.