by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The foster care system is no stranger to difficult times. But COVID-19 is presenting unprecedented challenges to the system.
Not only has the pandemic temporarily reduced respite care assistance for existing foster families, but now that the system is back in the public eye, a potential uptick in reports of abuse and neglect of children during the lockdown period might ensue.
That’s why foster care agencies, professionals and even churches are calling on their communities to help, said Megan Maciel, director of recruitment and communication for KVC Kansas. KVC provides case management services for nearly 2,000 children who are currently in out-of-home placement due to abuse and/or neglect.
“We haven’t seen an increase in [reports of] abuse and neglect during the pandemic,” said Maciel, “but we know that caring for a child is stressful, especially when you factor in economic instability.”
We also know, she said, that many of the reports of abuse and neglect come from the schools.
“So, it may be something we see on the rise when schools reopen,” she added.
Supporting the need
There are currently 7,347 children in foster care in Kansas — 2,000 more than a short five years ago.
KVC is the largest child placing agency in Kansas with over 880 foster homes. The agency helps Kansas children who are in foster care and their families through prevention services (family preservation), case management, family reunification, adoption, outpatient behavioral health and more.
KVC is among the agencies the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is partnering with in an attempt to raise awareness of foster care. According to Debra Niesen, lead consultant for the archdiocesan pro-life ministry, the church’s attention to foster care is long overdue. In fact, the archdiocese created the Foster Care Task Force a year ago for this purpose.
“The system is overwhelmed and the church must be part of the solution,” Niesen said. “We need to meet the needs of vulnerable children in Kansas. These are our children, right here in our neighborhoods, representing every type of background and socioeconomic level.”
Niesen credits Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann with driving renewed attention toward foster care. It’s an important part of the pro-life ministry, caring for human dignity at the beginning and end of life, as well as in between, she said.
The foster care page of the archdiocesan website — www.archkck.org/foster — provides a comprehensive look at foster care, explaining the need and how individuals and parishes can help.
Unfortunately, more than half of foster families quit within the first year, Niesen said. Additionally, in Johnson and Wyandotte counties combined, five to 10 children are moved to one-night placements each night while awaiting a long-term foster care placement.
The call to care
The goal of the task force is to increase the number of Catholic foster families now to prepare for the increased need in the fall and to support them better, Niesen said.
Families considering fostering should first pray to hear if God is calling them to foster. Next, they can visit the archdiocesan website and KVCKS.org to learn more about the experience, expectations and obligations.
If you can’t be a full-time foster family, there are other ways to help, including serving as a respite foster caregiver.
Susie Boster, a member of the archdiocesan Foster Care Task Force and Leawood’s Church of the Nativity, is a certified respite foster care provider. Before the pandemic, her family home served as respite for children in the foster care system for a few hours, overnight or a few weeks.
“Foster care is a hidden crisis. People don’t know the extent of the problem,” Boster said. “I believe that the more we inform fellow Catholics, the more the Holy Spirit can work on their hearts.”
Unfortunately, Boster had to temporarily stop providing overnight respite care when the pandemic forced her bedrooms to fill up when her husband had to begin working from home and her three college children returned home earlier than planned. She hopes to resume daytime respite care this summer.
Boster said she relied on her Catholic faith and the Holy Spirit when making her decision.
“It was all very natural for me to have younger kids in the house again and to make them feel comfortable and safe,” Boster said. “We always take them to Mass and teach them the mealtime prayer.”
Maciel reminds individuals that they can help with a simple gift card, monetary or food donations. Many local organizations and churches of all faiths have made generous donations.
According to Niesen, the archdiocese will use the Fostering Joy model, which encourages entire church communities to support foster care families by forming a foster care ministry in their parish, praying, providing respite care, running errands and providing material support (clothing, food, etc.).
“Respite certification is important because you can’t just hire a babysitter for a few hours when you need care for your foster children. That person has to be trained and certified,” Niesen said. “Studies show that when the Fostering Joy model is used, the retention rate for full-time foster families is over 90%.”