Georgia agencies that deal with foster care and family reunification are concerned that the coronavirus pandemic is already putting a strain on the state’s child welfare system.
As schools close and Georgia social workers have cut back on in-person visits, there are now fewer touchpoints with children considered at risk of abuse or neglect.
Bethany Christian Services, a nonprofit foster and adoption center with 36 branches in the U.S., is also bracing for an influx of children into the system becoming gridlocked.
“Many kids were on track to be reunified with their birth families, but unfortunately, court systems have basically shut down,” Cheryl Williams, Bethany’s foster care supervisor in Atlanta, said.
“We also have many cases where children were on the track to be adopted by their foster family, and that has come to a halt.”
Williams said the delay of family court proceedings and all this uncertainty is another source of trauma for more than 12,800 kids in the system that already deal with loss and attachment issues.
And the number of foster families available in Bethany’s system is dwindling.
Parents have been dealt a stressful balancing act of teaching kids, keeping up with assignments and working from home. So far, a record number of 3.3 million Americans have filed for unemployment due to the virus. Williams said many families without a stable income may not be able to follow through with fostering a child.
Then there’s the unknown threat of the virus itself. What public health experts do know is that COVID-19 makes older generations with weakened immune systems more susceptible.
“We have a lot of veteran foster families that have been doing this for many years,” Williams said. “They are in that group that has been identified as at-risk.
“And so they need to protect themselves, and are unfortunately not able to take placements at this time.”
Williams spoke to “Morning Edition” host Lisa Rayam about what’s likely ahead for placement agencies.