I-TEAM: Foster children already face incredible challenges. Then COVID-19 happened.
COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – The challenges of parenting during a pandemic has led to a domino effect in the foster care system, leaving our youngest and most vulnerable more at risk than ever.
Foster children faced incredible challenges before COVID-19. Only about a quarter graduate high school. Only about half ever find employment. Many foster children become homeless.
Now foster children face an even bigger challenge. The number of local children going into foster care is back on the rise after initially tapering off in March. However, the number of new foster homes families has not gone back up. Children with nowhere to go end up in hotels or in foster homes outside of the Augusta area.
Existing foster families face bigger challenges than ever to provide care to children in need during a pandemic.
Bobby and Emily Oglesby became first-time foster parents in March. They became first-time teachers a few days later.
“He was enrolled for one day. He was in the classroom and then the school systems were shut down,” Emily said.
Virtual learning was just one of the many unexpected challenges of fostering during a pandemic. Pediatricians stopped accepting new patients. Meetings with caseworkers and court-ordered visitation became virtual. Emily even lost her job.
“We had to quarantine with all the children and I was, unfortunately, let go from my job,” she said.
Roxann Grant lost services for her foster child during COVID-19. She’s been fostering for nearly twenty years but even for experienced foster parents like herself it’s a struggle right now.
“A lot of the services they wanted to do virtually and she is non-verbal and has a short attention span and doesn’t to walk and she has vision problems, so trying to get her to look at the screen on a telephone, it was a lot of hands-on for me. I am overwhelmed all the time,” Grant said.
Maria Carter is with NECCO, a non-profit foster care placement agency in the Augusta area.
“Some foster parents work and some daycares closed so it’s trying to work out how can I make sure this child’s educational needs are being met while I am also trying to provide for my home and this child,” Carter said.
We found the number of foster homes dropped at the beginning of COVID-19 but so did the number of children going into foster care. In March 2019, there were 403 children in foster care in Richmond County. There were 380 children in foster care in March of this year.
The numbers have since gone back up. Four-hundred and twenty-seven Augusta children were in foster care last month. However, the number of new foster homes dropped ten percent compared to October 2019.
The challenges of fostering during a national health care crisis is impacting families across the river too. More than 55 percent of experienced long-term foster parents have considered closing their homes to children in need, according to a study conducted by the University of South Carolina in September. More than 120 children are currently in foster care in Aiken County alone.
“Unfortunately, we do have to turn down referrals for foster children because we don’t have enough homes. There are not enough homes in the CSRA,” Carter said. She says this means children newly separated from their parents are sent to other areas of the state away from their friends, classmates, and teachers.
The Oglesby family admits the last eight months have been challenging, but the reward has been worth every difficult moment. She’s watched her foster children change.
“Physically, mentally, and the turnaround in a positive way," Emily said.
There are more 500 local children in foster care. The need is great. If you would like to learn more on becoming a foster parent, visit NECCO. Georgia residents can also contact DFCS and South Carolina residents can contact DSS for more information.
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